House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi's refusal to unequivocally condemn the National Football League's new rules — designed to prevent players from protesting by kneeling during the national anthem — is one of the reasons many black voters, particularly black millennials, question whether the Democratic Party has their best interests in mind.
At a CNN town hall Wednesday, anchor Chris Cuomo asked Pelosi whether she was okay with the rule change.
“I would be more okay with it if they had consulted with the players,” Pelosi said, referring to the NFL Players Association's claim that athletes had not been given a chance to weigh in on the new rules. “I don't think the players agreed to this. This is the owners, and, by the way, it's the owners who would be fined.”
“I love the national anthem,” she added. “I'm from Baltimore. That's where it was written during the War of 1812. So I'm very possessive of it. Sometimes people say, 'Maybe we should change the national anthem.' No.”
“I love the national anthem. I love the flag,” Pelosi said. “And I love the First Amendment, and I'll just leave it at that.”
But many black voters, especially younger ones, want more from the leaders of the party they vote for at extraordinarily high rates — and their responses to Pelosi's words reflected that on social media.
After black voters didn't turn out for Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential election at the same rate they did to help Barack Obama capture the White House, many wondered whether they were turning their backs on Democrats. The elections that have followed President Trump's inauguration suggest that is not the case. Significant wins by Democrats — especially the one in the Senate race in right-leaning states like Alabama — have come in large part because of the support of black voters.
But many black voters have said they were voting more against Trump and his agenda than for the Democratic Party.
Significant percentages of the black voting bloc are baby boomers. This presents a problem moving forward as black millennials — such as former NFL player Colin Kaepernick and many of the other athletes and activists supporting the #TakeAKnee movement — are less loyal to the party.
The kneeling protests began in 2016 when Kaepernick, then a quarterback for Pelosi’s hometown team of the San Francisco 49ers, tried to call attention to racial injustice and police brutality. Similar demonstrations grew more widespread in the 2017 season after Trump suggested that team owners should fire players who knelt.
According to the American National Election Studies, more than 6 in 10 (62 percent) of black voters 50 and older identify strongly with the Democratic Party. But that number is only 41 percent for black voters younger than 35.
And polling data from BlackPAC, an independent organization focused on politically engaging black voters, revealed that though 83 percent of black baby boomers said they were “very likely” to vote in the 2018 midterm elections, 65 percent of black millennials said the same.
Adrianne Shropshire, executive director of BlackPAC, told The Fix that Pelosi's response to the NFL ban on protests is part of the reason.
“There is a set of issues that are deeply personal, deeply significant in the lives of young black voters,” Shropshire said. “What they are expressing is they are not hearing urgency around those issues. They are not hearing the kind of policy solutions — long-term structural policy solutions — to the issues that they care about most. This is a good example of that. This is obviously not just about football. It is about a demonstration, a protest against police violence and police misconduct.”
Democrats can change the perception that black millennials have of them before this fall's general election, Shropshire said.
“Democrats need to develop a message that incorporates the critical economic security issues along with a message that acknowledges the impact of the rise in racism in the country on younger voters and have actual solutions on how they plan to deal with that,” she said. “But any message that fails to incorporate those two things will land on deaf ears.”