As politicians, particularly Democrats, scramble to court minority voters ahead of the November elections, there is still one group that — as ever — continues to be left out of the national political conversation: Native Americans.
This is not only morally disturbing. It is an unwise strategic oversight.
With a population of nearly 7 million across the country, Native Americans represent a critical voting bloc in some rural areas and swing states — including Arizona, Colorado, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, North Carolina and Wisconsin. They tend to lean Democratic.
In close elections, Native Americans could make the difference between victory and defeat in November. Yet, as usual, Democrats have proven woefully neglectful of them.
In all 11 Democratic presidential primary debates, the words “Native American” were mentioned a mere 10 times — seven by Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, twice by Sen. Kamala Harris of California, and once by philanthropist Tom Steyer.
Presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden and down-ballot Democrats need to work much harder and do much more to court Native American voters. They might begin by studying results of a new survey of 500 young Native Americans, ages 15 to 29. Schoen Cooperman Research conducted the survey and the company and I designed it.
Young Native Americans say national and state political leaders don’t care about them or their futures. The group lacks confidence, hope and trust in governments and institutions outside of their own tribal governments.
Indeed, a plurality (45%) of respondents believe that political leaders nationally and in their states do not care about them or their future. Only 4 in 10 say they are confident in their state governments, and even fewer (37%) are confident in the federal government.
Meanwhile, approximately 7 in 10 say their tribal leaders care about them, and 6 in 10 are confident in their tribal governments.
These results are consistent with the way the federal and state governments have treated Native Americans for centuries. For too long, these communities have been cast aside and ignored, and very few politicians and other Americans seem to care.
Biden and the Democratic Party ignore such disaffection and distrust at their peril. The survey reveals that 60% of young Native Americans disapprove of the job Donald Trump is doing as president and over two-thirds are committed to voting this fall.
Take Wisconsin, for example. In 2016, Trump won the state by less than 1%, or just over 22,000 votes. There are over 31,000 Native Americans in the state. Given their likelihood to vote and their antipathy to Trump, these voters could potentially put Biden over the top.
To be fair, Biden does have a plan to help Native American communities. The plan includes large investments in Native American schools and universities, as well as improving infrastructure on reservations. These actions would create jobs and stimulate local economies.
The Biden plan is a start, but not nearly enough. This survey of young Native Americans reveals many specific concerns: health care, unemployment, education, crime and safety, alcohol and drug abuse, preserving Native American cultures and languages, and addressing their particular lack of economic opportunity.
Biden and other Democrats need to listen and act. They need to develop and promote policies that address the specific concerns of Native American communities, and make it clear that doing so is a priority.
Ultimately, doing so will not only improve the Democrats’ chances of victory. It will finally begin the long, hard work of mending relations with this abused and forgotten community.