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Among African American Women Voters, Optimism Is Its Own Superpower

Boston University College of Arts & Sciences assistant professor of political science, Christine Slaughter, researches whether Black women who are more optimistic engage in politics differently than Black women who are more pessimistic. According to her most recent paper, there is reason to believe that optimism is particularly potent among Black women willing to participate in the political process.

“How do people remain hopeful, remain steadfast, have an outlook that can lead them to want to enact change versus to be motivated by anger?” she asks.

Among Black women, she found that optimism was associated with an increase in different kinds of participation—including signing petitions, participating in a community organization, handing out flyers, and voting—more so than with white men and women in the survey. “This suggests that Black women who are optimistic about the future of the United States are also willing to engage in the political process, which ultimately brings about change in society,” the paper states.

She also found that the African American women who participated in the survey were the most optimistic about the country's future compared to white men, white women, and African American men—but the least optimistic about their own futures. This is surprising, Slaughter says, and leads to questions about how people might feel their lives will or won’t change after a big election or how their communities might change compared to their own lives.

Slaughter isn’t sure why Black women are optimistic about the nation’s prospects yet pessimistic about their own—though she speculates it could be a result of coming out of the 2008 recession, or the timing of the questions presented to survey participants—but aims to dig into the reasons in future studies. For now, she says, there are lessons for those trying to win voters to their cause. Her article points out that while there is distrust among African Americans about the US political system, messages of optimism—like former President Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign slogan of “Yes we can”—may mobilize African American women, voters, in ways that are underutilized. 



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