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It's estimated that millions of people who voted for Barack Obama in 2012 stayed home during the 2016 presidential election, and many of those nonvoters were black. For this political season, one big question is whether African-Americans still feel like they have a home in the Democratic Party, a party that year after year depends on their votes. NPR political correspondent Asma Khalid reports from Cleveland.
ASMA KHALID, BYLINE: I first met Koya Graham in the spring of 2016 when she told me she had no intention of voting for president.
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KOYA GRAHAM: I'm not interested anymore. I don't see any immediate significant changes happening.
KHALID: When we reconnected at a coffee shop in Cleveland, Graham confirmed she did not vote in 2016. And she says she has no regrets. The Trump presidency has kind of turned out to be a blessing in disguise.
GRAHAM: For our people, for my people, this was probably the best thing that could've happened to America. The veil has been lifted.
KHALID: Graham says the country's underbelly of racism is being exposed.
GRAHAM: I think that we've always had our blinders on. And even though it's unfortunate, you know, where we are right now, I'm glad that it has happened because America is now being seen for the country that it is.
KHALID: Many black voters I talked to say they have been loyal Democrats for years, and yet hardly anything has changed in their communities. Ifeolu Claytor is a 23-year-old working with the Ohio Young Black Democrats. And he says his party has taken black votes for granted.
IFEOLU CLAYTOR: And that's something that needs to change clearly because black millennials will just stay at home. It's not 1980 where people are still, like, kind of fresh like our parents just got the right to vote.
KHALID: Claytor feels like Democrats are too focused on courting middle-class, white voters.
CLAYTOR: Focusing on WASPy middle-class issues is not going to win in 2018 or 2020.
KHALID: But his friend and fellow Democrat Gabrielle Jackson insists the situation is improving. In 2016, she says some candidates simply refuse to engage with black voters. This year is different.
GABRIELLE JACKSON: We've had almost every gubernatorial candidate. We'll have them all by May, by the primary come talk to us about our issues and things that affect them.
KHALID: And Jackson says if politicians don't, they shouldn't expect votes.
JACKSON: These people are recognizing that in order to win, you cannot ignore us. And if you do, you will lose.
KHALID: So turnout is about issues like criminal justice reform, racial tension and wealth disparity. But it's also about mobilization. And recent history shows how dramatically turnout can change when voters are engaged. Look at the elections in Virginia and Alabama last year where black voters, particularly black women, were key.
ADRIANNE SHROPSHIRE: In Alabama, we knocked on about 500,000 doors.
KHALID: That's Adrianne Shropshire. She leads the group BlackPAC, which was instrumental in the Alabama Senate race.
SHROPSHIRE: We talked to people on their doors both in Alabama and in Virginia, ran canvas programs where people from the community were out talking to their neighbors.
KHALID: Shropshire's group is trying to make sure the voter drop-off in 2016 doesn't become a permanent trend. But to do that, Democrats need to make a persuasive argument.
SHROPSHIRE: Black voters in particular want to understand how Democrats are going to address a whole range of racial justice issues. And so sort of running away from those issues is a nonstarter.
KHALID: In the 2016 election, black voter turnout plummeted from 2012 and 2008. It even dipped slightly lower than the Bush-Kerry election of 2004. Black voters are base voters in the Democratic Party, and so Shropshire says there's really no fear they're going to shift to Republicans this November. The fear is that they'll just stay home. Asma Khalid, NPR News.
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