Graphics by Anna Wiederkehr
Because most national and state polls include only a small number of Black voters, we rarely get the opportunity to take a detailed look at how preferences and opinions vary within the Black community. Too often, the national political discourse never gets beyond “the Black vote,” full stop.
But this year, at least four different groups — the Democracy Fund + UCLA Nationscape polling initiative, Morning Consult, the African American Research Collaborative and HIT Strategies — are conducting surveys with bigger samples of Black Americans in the run-up to the 2020 election. And issues of race and systemic racism have dominated stretches of the campaign.
So, with just about 40 days until Nov. 3, we took a detailed look at where Black voters stand. Here’s what we learned:
Candidates are getting similar levels of Black support to past nominees
According to recent Democracy Fund polling, 83 percent of likely Black voters favored former Vice President Joe Biden, 10 percent favored President Trump, and 8 percent said they didn’t know which candidate they will back.1 Recent Morning Consult polling found almost exactly the same thing — 84 percent for Biden, 10 percent for Trump and 7 percent undecided or favoring a third-party candidate.
So it seems likely that Biden will end up winning close to 90 percent of Black voters, with Trump winning around 10 percent, as experts on Black voting say undecided Black voters tend to consolidate to the Democrat as we get closer to Election Day. If that happens again this year, Biden’s roughly 80-point margin over Trump among Black voters would be fairly typical for U.S. presidential elections.
It’s interesting that Trump appears to be turning some white people against him in part because of his controversial racial comments but he hasn’t really lost any Black support (and he might even do a bit better this year than he did in 2016 with Black voters). Of course, that’s largely because he had so little Black support to begin with — there isn’t much room to do worse. But there is a core bloc of about 10 percent of Black Americans who are Republican-leaning and they appear to be sticking with Trump. Indeed, the 2020 numbers suggest that it might be hard for Democrats to replicate the 90-point margin among Black voters they had in 2008 and 2012 with Barack Obama running as the first-ever Black major party presidential nominee.
Protests and the Harris pick didn’t have big, long-lasting effects
Neither the protests in the wake of the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis in late May nor the selection of Kamala Harris, the first Black and Asian American vice-presidential nominee, resulted in big and durable boosts in Biden’s Black support.
That’s not to say there’s been absolutely no movement in the Biden-Trump race among Black voters. Biden’s biggest lead among Black voters came throughout June, following Floyd’s death and the early days of the protests against police brutality. That makes sense: Scholars have found that because of past experiences with discrimination and prejudice, Black people are more likely than other racial and ethnic groups to view their fate in a collective way. The Floyd killing and the weeks of intense national discussion about systemic racism against Black people, particularly their treatment by police, likely increased feelings of collective identity among Black Americans, given the renewed salience of issues surrounding policing in Black communities.
The selection of Harris as the first-ever Black woman on a major-party presidential ticket didn’t really change Biden’s standing among Black voters at all, according to the Nationscape polling. That’s not surprising or necessarily a sign that she was a bad pick. First of all, Biden didn’t have much room to grow in terms of his Black vote share — he was already in the 80s by mid-August. Also, Harris’s selection probably wasn’t as much about boosting Biden with Black voters this November in the first place. The pick addressed other goals for the former vice president, such as making the Democratic ticket more balanced in terms of age, gender and race; recognizing Black women for long one of most Democractic-leaning demographic groups in the electorate; and recognizing Black voters overall for their role in boosting Biden during this year’s Democratic primary.
There is a substantial gender gap
According to the Nationscape survey of likely voters from Aug. 27 to Sept. 9, Biden led Trump among Black men 76 percent to 17 percent; Biden led among Black women 87 percent to 4 percent. This is also pretty standard. Black men, like men in most other demographic groups, tend to be more Republican-leaning than their female counterparts. Trump won about 14 percent of the Black male vote in 2016, according to the Pew Research Center, while his support from Black women was virtually nonexistent.
But this gender gap is favorable to Biden in an important way — Black women tend to vote at higher rates than Black men (64 percent of voting-eligible Black women turned out in 2016, compared to 54 percent of Black men). Women generally vote more than men, but the turnout gap between Black women and Black men has long been larger than that between white women and white men.
Black youth are more skeptical of Biden, the Democratic Party
Among white likely voters, Biden’s best margins are with the youngest cohort (those 18 to 29 years old). But among Black likely voters, Biden’s biggest margins are among older cohorts.
And when you conduct polling among all Black adults (as opposed to just likely voters), as HIT, AARC and Democracy Fund have all done this year, this age gap is even wider. Among all respondents, older Black people support Biden by a wide margin while younger Black people are more supportive of Trump. Moreover, younger Black respondents are much more inclined than older Black respondents to say that they don’t know which candidate they’ll support (which may explain at least somewhat why they indicated that they are unlikely to vote in the race).
The polling by both HIT and AARC in particular tell a fairly clear story: Older Black people are more clearly partisan Democrats than younger Black people, both viewing the Democratic Party and its leaders much more favorably than younger Black people and viewing the GOP with more disdain than younger Black people. Among Black registered voters age 50 and older, 75 percent said they thought congressional Democrats were doing a good job, compared to just 22 percent who thought congressional Democrats were doing a poor job, according to a HIT survey conducted in June. But among Black voters under age 50, only about half (54 percent) approved of congressional Democrats, while 36 percent disapproved. Black voters under 50 (57 percent) were more likely than those 50 and over (40 percent) to agree with the statement, “The Democratic Party takes Black people for granted,” according to HIT polling.
Among Black people over 65, 77 percent had a favorable view of Harris and just 10 percent viewed her unfavorably, according to HIT polling conducted in late August and early September (after her selection as Biden’s running mate). Among Black people ages 25 to 34, 28 percent viewed her favorably and 44 percent unfavorably. (The rest were neutral or didn’t know.)
Similarly, in AARC polling, older Black Americans express more anti-Trump views and more pro-Democratic Party views on a number of measures than their younger counterparts. They also seem more enthusiastic to vote, in part because they seem to view voting as part of lifting up the broader Black community.
The divide between older and younger Black voters
Share of Black voters who hold the following positions or agree with the given statements
Ageposition18-2960+OverallTrump is a racist79%90%84%Trump is incompetent749079I vote to support the Black community *547163Democratic Party is “welcoming” to Black Americans477661Trust congressional Democrats to “do what is best” for Black people437357I do not always like Trump’s policies, but I like the way he shows strength and defies the establishment.351030Definitely motivated to vote297855Trust congressional Republicans to do “what is best” for Black people29821GOP is “welcoming” to Black Americans28722I don’t vote because it doesn’t make a difference *21214* Share of voters who said they “agree strongly” with the statement.
Survey was conducted online July 1-9 in Florida, Georgia, Michigan, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin on behalf of the American University Black Swing Voter Project.
Source: African American Research Collaborative Poll
“Unlike their elders, who came up with fresh memories of civil rights activism, young folks aren’t willing to tolerate voting for the ‘lesser of two evils.’ They told us they would just as soon stay home,” said Sam Fulwood, a fellow at American University’s Center for Congressional and Presidential Studies, who recently conducted focus groups with young Black voters as part of a research project.
In an interview, Terrance Woodbury of HIT described younger Black voters as having “systemic cynicism” towards institutions like the Democratic Party.
“There is a level of disenfranchisement and disengagement,” he added. Woodbury also argued that some of Trump’s messages have resonated with younger Black voters in particular. In focus groups, according to Woodbury, younger Black voters often mention the criminal justice reform bill that the president signed into law, his support for increased funding for historically Black colleges and the low Black unemployment rate before the coronavirus outbreak.
These differing views among Black Americans may not just be about age. When looking at all Black respondents (not just likely voters), Biden had more support among Black voters who were college-educated and those with higher-incomes, according to the Nationscape data. So it might be that more established Black people (older, more educated, higher income) are more satisfied with the Democratic Party than other Black Americans.
We’re not sure this is a huge problem for Biden, because it doesn’t appear that Trump is going to win a big share of younger Black voters, those without degrees or those with lower incomes. But a lack of enthusiasm for Biden might show up in terms of turnout.
It’s really hard to judge turnout at this stage
But the safe bet is that Black turnout won’t match white turnout, as in previous years (the exceptions being 2008 and 2012).
If Black Americans are really galvanized by the protests, Harris on the ticket or hatred of Trump, their voting rates will probably be the biggest indicator. In 2012, not only did the Black voting rate reach a record high of 67 percent, but Black voting rates were equal to white voting rates. In 2016 and then 2018, Black voting rates were a few percentage points behind white ones, as is the historical pattern.
It is really hard to gauge Black turnout from the polls we have now. Even when Obama was on the ballot, younger Black people voted at much lower rates than older ones — but across all ethnicities and races, younger people vote at lower rates. So the surveys above noting that younger Black people are not as supportive of Biden and Democrats don’t themselves predict lower turnout.
That said, the evidence we have indicates that super-high Black turnout was related to the chance to elect and then reelect the first-ever Black president. That is not happening in 2020, so it’s more likely that Black voting patterns will resemble 2004 or 2016 than 2008.