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Pete Buttigieg’s Candidacy Exposes Democrats’ ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ Approach To Black Voters


In recent polling, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg attracts roughly 1 percent of black voters. One explanation for this is low name recognition. Yet there is reason to think Buttigieg’s same-sex marriage may be problematic to one degree or another with this key Democratic demographic. Democrats and the establishment media would prefer not to discuss it.

It is too early to say definitively that Buttigieg has a problem with black voters. At this point in the campaign, when polling Democrats about Democrats, favorability ratings tend to be inversely related to “don’t know / no opinion” responses.

Low name identification becomes a larger problem when attempting to analyze sub-samples such as of black voters. In early August, 62 percent of black Democratic primary voters in Morning Consult’s tracking survey did not know who Buttigieg is. Accordingly, we should not jump to conclusions about his potential appeal to black voters.

On the other hand, blacks in early primary and caucus states are learning about Mayor Pete. Some of what they are learning may not be appealing on the issues, such as his admission of failure in diversifying South Bend’s police department. Black voters are also learning about his sexuality; some are not thrilled with it.

In South Carolina, the first primary state with a significant black population and one likely to be decisive in the voting, black churchgoers have mixed feelings about Buttigieg’s homosexuality. Joe Darby, a pastor in the African Methodist Episcopal Church and local NAACP leader, told the Associated Press: “It’s a heavy lift in the black church. Just as nobody who is racist likes to say, ‘I’m a racist,’ nobody who is homophobic in the black community likes to say, ‘I’m homophobic.’” Darby later added, “The most damning comment was at a clergy breakfast, and when his name was brought up another guy said, ‘Yeah, that’s the guy who kissed his husband on TV.’”

Black Americans’ attitudes about Buttigieg are not monolithic. The AP also interviewed congregants at a Baptist church in Greenville who dismissed Mayor Pete’s perceived sin. Others were simply willing to vote for him if he had the right politics and could beat President Trump. Even in these opinions, however, there is the sense that Buttigieg’s sexuality may be an obstacle among churchgoing black voters.

These interviews are anecdotes, but they are consistent with broader data. The most recent Pew Research Center polling indicates only 44 percent of black Protestants support same-sex marriage, the same level of support found among Republicans and leaners (the figure for Democrats and leaners is 75 percent).

Overall, blacks lag other racial demographics in supporting same-sex marriage. A bare 51 percent majority of blacks support same-sex marriage, as opposed to 58 percent of Latinos and 62 percent of whites. These numbers suggest Buttigieg may have difficulties attracting black support even if he becomes better known among voters generally.

While black attitudes on LGBTQ issues pose a particular problem for Mayor Pete, his candidacy exposes a more general issue for a Democratic Party whose elites are disproportionately white leftists. The elite response so far, including from establishment media, has been to bury the issue.

For example, three Democratic presidential candidates—Sens. Bernie Sanders, Kamala Harris, and Cory Booker—campaigned at the Victory Missionary Baptist Church in Las Vegas. The church is led by the Rev. Robert E. Fowler, Sr., who believes being gay is “enough to send you to hell.” Fowler also has compared homosexuality to child molestation, which apparently caught Harris completely unaware:

Eventually, all three candidates issued statements distancing themselves from the pastor. The story was covered by outlets that serve an LGBTQ audience or have significant LGBTQ readership, such as DC’s Metro Weekly, The Advocate, and the Mercury News. No more than a handful of center-left outlets touched it.

In contrast, everyone knows how the story would have been covered if the candidates had been Republican. In the first instance, Republicans get more scrutiny for campaigning in churches than Democrats ever have. In the second instance, the media would have swarmed Buttigieg for comment.

Furthermore, Mitt Romney’s faith, the Mormon religion’s position on LGBTQ rights, and the antipathy of some conservative preachers to Mormonism were media fodder for two consecutive campaign cycles. In 2008, the establishment media made the anti-Catholic, anti-Semitic pastor John Hagee’s endorsement of Sen. John McCain a story for months after McCain made clear he did not endorse Hagee.

Most recently, during an interview on an unrelated topic, CNN’s Don Lemon ambushed a pro-Trump pastor regarding his 2012 statement comparing same-sex marriage to child molestation. CNN was missing in action regarding the Fowler’s similar comment, let alone the three Democratic candidates who campaigned in his church.

Mayor Pete’s candidacy throws a spotlight on the relative social conservatism of black Democrats on LGBTQ issues, but the difference is not limited to that topic. Nonwhite Democrats are also relatively more conservative on Israel, the Me Too movement and other issues.

The party’s leftist elites seemingly have adopted a “don’t ask, don’t tell” approach with its social conservatives. So far, it’s working. There is little social conservatism among the 2020 candidates; there is no sign that nonwhite Democrats are abandoning the party in any significant number.

But the fact that Democrats tolerate socially conservative nonwhites—so long as they keep their mouths shut and vote for leftists—will not go unnoticed by the right in an election cycle where the Democrats plan to campaign on their supposed moral superiority and enlightenment regarding social issues.