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Are Colorado’s Ethiopians Stampeding from the Democratic Party? What’s the Deal? – Part Two

September 23, 2021

Ethiopian and Eritrean Communities celebrating the appointment of Abiy Ahmed as new Ethiopian Prime Minister. Aurora High School. Aurora, Colorado. July 22, 2018

1.

Six weeks ago I wrote a blog “Are Colorado Ethiopians Stampeding from the Democratic Party? What’s The Deal?” in response to the Biden Administration’s blatant support for the Ethiopian separatist group, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), a group trying to overthrow the current Ethiopian government of President Abiy Ahmed. The details, explanation of Ethiopians bolting from the Dems is described therein for those interested in digging deeper.  At the time, the insight into this tendency came from a series of discussions with of Colorado’s Ethiopian and Eritrean Communities here in the state; that is to say, while I was convinced that the trend exists, the evidence was anecdotal.

It should not be surprising that Washington’s offensive against the Ethiopian government has provoked strong negative reactions among Ethiopia’s American citizens, 95% of which stand with the Abiy government. Of late, Ethiopians here in the USA, have alternated between criticism of Republican and Democratic administrations. Concerning Ethiopia, Washington has pursued an essentially bipartisan policy resulting in constantly shifting voting patterns. As short-sighted and misguided as Biden’s current Ethiopia policy is, in its broader dimension, frankly, there is no difference between that of the Biden Administration from that of the Trump Admininistration. It should be recalled, that Donald Trump in his own inimical manner referred to all Africa as “shithole countries” in one breath and a few breaths later, openly threatened Ethiopia by encouraging Egypt to bomb the nearly completed Great Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD).

The Biden Administration’s full court press against the Abiy government, that has already included some cuts in aid the beginning of a sanctions program against Ethiopians and Eritreans. One could say with justification that Biden is simply deepening a campaign initiated by Trump and that Washington’s Ethiopia policy is essentially bipartisan. Switching parties, bouncing back and forth between the Dems and Republicans is akin to replacing rotten meat with rotten fish and thinking the switch is a way to address the problem.  No solution in the end.  None.

Whatever, Ethiopian-Americans, like so many other immigrant communities, fixated on events “back home” in a time of crisis, are responding by jumping ship from the Dems to the Republicans. A shortsighted, labile response to the crisis that requires a qualitatively different approach (from where I am sitting), but is common enough.

In the same vein, a new on-line poll, announced on an Ethiopian-American email list, discussion group, People-to-People,(1) concluded that a large percentage of Ethiopian-Americans are indeed changing political horses, switching their voting registration from Democratic to Republican.

If an accurate, Democrats have their work cut out for them, especially in swing states with large Ethiopian populations that tend to vote in high numbers. No?

The poll was done over 24 hours in which 2500 people participated, 85 percent said they are leaving the Democratic Party. Sixty-one (61) percent said they will join the Republican party.”

The poll asked the following questions:

1. Are you affiliated with a political party? If so which one? 79% of responders responded that they are Democrats

2.  Which candidate did you vote for in the 2020 Senatorial elections? 91% voted for the Democratic Party candidate

3. Which candidate did you vote for in the 2020 House of Representatives elections? 90.8%, again, voted Democrat

4. Was American policy on Ethiopia a factor in your voting preferences? 69.5% said yes

5. Do you plan to vote in the 2022 mid-term elections? 89. 8% said yes

6. Will America’s policy on Ethiopia be a factor in your 2022 mid-term voting decisions? 94.5% said yes. 

7. Do you intend to change your party affiliation? 61.2% responded that they tend to switch parties from Democrat to Republican.

2.

One might ask, why does it matter?

In a country of 333 million people of which close to 160 million are eligible to vote(133 million of whom are registered) is it not exaggerated to suggest so much importance to an immigrant community that somewhere between 800,000 to a million nationwide? They seem a drop in the bucket as the saying goes, and so small a constituency as to be irrelevant or close to it.

It could be argued that, yes, people having immigrated from the Horn of Africa (Ethiopia, Eritrea, Somalia, S. Sudan) are “a drop in the bucket” but one that in certain states (Colorado, Georgia, Virginia, perhaps California) where elections between Democrats and Republicans is close, more and more they represent a critical swing vote. If Colorado is any example, Democratic and Republican Party leadership are aware of this fact and have with different levels of awareness, targeted voters from the Horn. Colorado is a classic example of this “Ethiopian swing vote potential.” Although Ethiopians are found all over the Denver metropolitan area, there is a heavy concentration of them in Aurora, the city adjoining and just east of Denver with its 370,000 people and its heavy concentration of immigrants and non-whites. There, where a number of recent elections have been very close (the mayoral, U.S. Congressional contests) winning the Ethiopian vote has been a key to victory in a number of cases, among them, Democrat Jason Crow’s 2018 defeat of Republican U.S. Representative Mike Coffman. Coffman bounced back in 2019 defeating Omar Montgomery to win the mayoral contest in a very close election and is now Aurora’s mayor. The Ethiopian factor was important in both contests.

A right-wing Republican, avid Trump supporter, who is a strong supporter of U.S. military adventures abroad, Coffman, in particular, has wooed – and frankly won – the support of the state’s Ethiopian Community. I might not agree with his politics – I don’t and if I lived in the district (which I don’t ) I would work for and donate against Coffman giving generously of my time and money to try to defeat him. Actually not living in his district, I have openly supported his opposition recently on several occasions. Won one, lost one on that score. That said, one cannot deny that Coffman is no fool, like his idiot fellow Republican Congresswoman Laura Boebert, also in Congress. He works hard, produces for his constituency and while no doubt mountains of Republican Party money go into his campaign, I simply recognize, that Coffman has a history of doing “the grunt work” necessary to stay afloat politically. His connection with the Ethiopian Community is one of the reasons.

One more point here. Although there are exceptions, as a general rule political contests in the United States are rarely about international issues and the positions of local, state Democrats are not always in tune with their party’s foreign policy positions. I have written – and will continue to write – about the Biden Administration’s shortsighted policies on Ethiopia which began even prior to Joe Biden taking office and continue until today. but with few exceptions, these policies have little impact on local, state political initiatives… until major parties begin losing votes as a result.

What does the Biden Administration’s Ethiopia policy – “spot on” or off base – mean to a gubernatorial contest in California or Virginia? A mayoral race in Atlanta or Aurora, Colorado?

I would argue, more than you might think.

How else to explain why California governor, Gain Newsom held an open Zoom meeting with some 350 people, mostly Ethiopians and Eritreans from California, just a few days prior to the recent recall election (which he won handily)? Newsum was making a statement: The Ethiopian-Eritrean vote is not irrelevant and he was acknowledging that fact in one of the three largest, richest states in the nation.

Shortly thereafter, both Colorado’s Governor, Jared Polis as well as President Biden wished the Ethiopian Community a “Happy New Year” (which happened to fall on the fateful day, September 11). Again the statements were carefully constructed, non-political to the n-th, but all the same, they were making a statement that the Democrats are not taking the Ethiopian vote for granted. No doubt it was also the beginning of a kind of damage control forced Newsom, Polis and the Democratic Party as a whole as the result of the Biden Administration’s current mis)policies on Ethiopia, a form of growing damage control, if you will.

a graph from the said poll

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End Note

1, The People-To-People online lists describes itself as:

“People To People, Inc. is a Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) governed by a Board of Directors and operating under IRS code 501 (C) (3). It was founded in April of 1999 in the state of Kentucky, USA as a non-profit organization. It has no political, ethnic or religious affiliations. It brought together people armed with the spirit of compassion to bring hope to those who find themselves in hopeless situations. P2P is globally emerging as a bridge and a network of the Ethiopian diaspora committed and willing to give back to its motherland. It has developed strategies for mobilizing the Ethiopian diaspora to provide support not just in health and education areas alone but also in other sectors of social and economic development. We invite you to be a part of this dynamic organization and be part of a solution. Our work extends further out to other African countries, but Ethiopia remains to be our primary focus.”

We are headquartered in the USA with a regional office in Ethiopia but as the spirit of kindness spread, we have stretched our wings and have crossed borders to become International. We are pleased to inform you that we also now operate in the USA, Canada, Sweden and Finland.

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