Exit polls showed voting fell heavily along racial lines, but one result stuck out as odd: An exit poll provided by CNN showed 18 percent of black women voted for DeSantis.
That is a sharp departure from how black women usually vote, especially in general elections. Immediately afterward, conservative outlets seized on it to suggest black voters, and particularly African American women, were swayed by GOP policies such as school choice.
Political scientists who study black women’s political behavior and black women political organizers have pushed back against that conclusion.
“I don’t believe it,” said Sharon Wright Austin, a professor of African American studies and political science at the University of Florida. “Black women are very cohesive in voting for Democratic candidates, usually 90 percent or more. I find it hard to believe that such a large number of black women voted against Andrew Gillum.”
“I don’t believe it’s an accurate poll,” agreed Salandra Benton, one of the leaders of the Black Women’s Roundtable, which encourages political participation across the state.
During the campaign, Benton said she “traveled throughout the state of Florida, from Pensacola all the way down to Miami, rural and urban communities,” and she detected no enthusiasm among black women for DeSantis.
Benton was skeptical that black women would support a candidate who aligned himself with “the leadership in Washington,” which she said has been “biased” against and “disrespectful” of women and people of color.
DeSantis, a former congressman, was endorsed by Trump, and he supported the president’s policies during the campaign. DeSantis ran a campaign ad in which he coos “build the wall” to his toddler daughter as they stack toy blocks. The day after he won the primary, he drew sharp criticism for saying voters should not “monkey this up” by voting for Gillum. DeSantis’s aides denied the comment had any racist meaning.
DeSantis’s associations with individuals and groups that espoused racist beliefs became an issue in the campaign, as The Fix’s Eugene Scott noted. In one memorable moment during a debate, Gillum noted those associations and said, “I’m not calling Mr. DeSantis a racist. I’m simply saying the racists believe he’s a racist.”
We reached out to Edison Research, which conducted the exit poll for CNN, CBS, NBC and ABC News networks, via email and telephone, but got no response.
However, a different poll of voters by AP VoteCast and Fox News showed a different result: 96 percent of black women in Florida voted for Gillum, with only 4 percent voting for DeSantis.
The VoteCast exit poll is much closer to the trend for how black women have voted in recent statewide and national general elections, according to network exit polls. In 2008, 96 percent of black women (and 97 percent in Florida) voted for Barack Obama for president, and an equal percentage supported his reelection four years later. In the 2016 exit poll, 94 percent of black women voted for Hillary Clinton. In the 2017 special election for the U.S. Senate seat in Alabama, Democrat Doug Jones upset the Republican candidate with the help of black women, 98 percent of whom voted for him. In neighboring Georgia, 97 percent of black women voted for Democratic nominee Stacey Abrams in the governor’s race.
Black women consistently support Democratic and progressive candidates at higher rates than any other group of voters, including black men.
Nadia Brown, a political science professor at Purdue University, said it is simplistic and inaccurate to suggest black women blindly follow the Democratic Party. Rather, she said, black women are concerned Republican policies could harm vulnerable people.
“As a college professor, I don’t share a lot of same day-to-day life experiences as some other black women, but I recognize that my life is tied to theirs,” Brown said. “Yes, I could say, ‘Yes, I want to keep more money in my pocket and have lower taxes,’ but how does that hurt the other black child that doesn’t have the advantages that I have? I can’t look at another black family and say, ‘I deserve better or something different.’”
Scott Clement contributed to this report.