The Black Futures Lab’s Black Census Project is the largest survey of Black people conducted in the United States since Reconstruction. Reached through online outreach methods and community partnerships, over 30,000 Black people from across the country participated in the Black Census Project, providing experiences, views and opinions about politics, society, and the opportunities and challenges facing Black communities and the nation. The Black Census Project amplifies the concerns and aspirations of the most politically and civically engaged Black adults in the U.S., revealing issues critical to activating and engaging Black communities in the years ahead.

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The Black Futures Lab works to make Black communities powerful in politics. Launched in 2018, the Black Futures Lab strengthens the capacity of Black communities across the United States to build independent, progressive, Black political power. We know that the challenges facing Black communities are complex, and the solutions to those challenges require innovation, experimentation, and Black political power.

To conduct the Census, the Black Futures Lab worked in partnership with more than 30 grassroots organizations serving Black communities nationwide. The Black Futures Lab also partnered with 2 of the largest online civil rights organizations serving Black communities and their allies—PushBlack and Color of Change. As a result, the Black Census includes populations that are usually not represented or are underrepresented in traditional surveys, such as homeless people, incarcerated people, LGBTQ people, Black Republicans and conservatives, Black immigrants, and mixed-raced people with a Black parent, among others. The Black Census is not a traditional probabilistic survey sample, which often fails to fully represent populations whose experiences are important to understanding the complexity of Black life. Instead, the Black Census utilized unique survey collection methods that drew on robust online networks and sent local organizers into Black businesses, churches, libraries, barbershops and other community gathering places from North Carolina to Nevada, providing a rare and important opportunity to hear and learn from voices too often at the margins of America’s political debate.

This is the first in a series of reports on the Black Census, focusing on the most pressing economic and criminal justice issues among Black Census respondents, with a spotlight on how respondents are engaged in the electoral process. The report reveals that many Black Census respondents are highly engaged in elections: Not only did more than 73 percent report voting in 2016, but 40 percent also report some other form of electoral activity, such as engaging as donors, volunteers, or canvassers. Yet despite the notable level of participation, most respondents believe that the Black community is not highly valued in return: 52 percent of Black Census respondents say that politicians do not care about Black people, and an additional 35 percent assert that politicians only care a little.

There is a high degree of agreement among Black Census respondents—including those most engaged in elections—on both the prescription of ills in the community and the potential policy solutions to those challenges. In other words, Black Census respondents know what to do to address the problems Black communities face and many are actively engaged in the political and electoral system to bring about change. Yet too often, urgent concerns go unheard: It is vital that the political system listen, engage and respond to the concerns and needs of Black communities. As the unwavering base of the Democratic Party, if the politically engaged Black population ceased to vote and gave up on the system, it would upend the Democratic Party and have devastating effects on our democracy as a whole.

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