X Close

How Trump held on to black voters The President's often-racist rhetoric was mitigated by his economic promises

Trump meeting Lil Wayne earlier this month. Credit: @LilTunechi.

Trump meeting Lil Wayne earlier this month. Credit: @LilTunechi.


November 9, 2020   5 mins

During the first presidential debate of the 2020 campaign, moderator Chris Wallace pushed Donald Trump to condemn white supremacists; instead of doing so, the incumbent seemed to give a nod to the far-Right Proud Boys group. In the final debate, moderator Kristen Welker grilled Trump on several apparently racists incidents, including one in which the President shared a video of a supporter screaming “white power!” When Trump compared his record with black Americans to that of President Abraham Lincoln, who proclaimed an end to slavery during the Civil War, Biden mocked him: “Abraham Lincoln here is one of the most racist presidents we’ve had in modern history.”

The Democrats expected non-white voters to be outraged by Trump’s often-racist rhetoric — and worked hard to mobilise them, in the hopes of a landslide victory for Biden. The data so far suggests they succeeded in boosting black turnout; and yet the Democrat party failed to increase its margins with black voters. The election was won on a knife-edge, and Trump performed far better than expected with black Americans (and even more so with Latino voters).

Some pundits believe that Trump’s stronger than expected showing is a repudiation by white voters (who still make up the majority of the electorate) against this summer’s BLM movement. Though research has shown that the vast majority of Black Lives Matter protestors were peaceful — and that much of the worst violence during this year’s racial unrest was committed by white actors — white Americans are less likely to recognise the difference between the protests and the riots. Trump has regularly conflated them in his rhetoric.

Meanwhile, Trump has played up his pre-Covid economic performance while downplaying the need to address racial issues, and a plurality of voters seem to have ranked the economy as their number one issue according to exit polls. These polls show that 80% of those for whom the economy was the most pressing issue went for Donald Trump, while 90% who viewed racial injustice as the most important issue went for Joe Biden.

Nevertheless, Biden’s advantage on race did not lead to higher margins of support from black voters compared to four years ago. Black women voted almost uniformly for Democrats, as they have done for some time; the major surprise in this election concerns black men, especially younger black men who were targeted by both campaigns. Washington Post exit polls indicate that Trump won 18% of black men. Although possibly within the margin of error, this is an apparent increase from the 14% of the black male vote that he won in 2016 according to the Pew Research Center.

Even if the increase in black male supporters is a polling error, just the fact that Trump appears to have at least held steady among this demographic represents a victory for the Republicans. The President’s appeals to white nationalists such as the far-Right Proud Boys group, and his use of racially-coded language that plays upon suburban white fears, could have easily alienated black men.

The Democratic candidate is part of the explanation. Despite being Obama’s Vice President for eight years, Biden came in to the election with racial baggage, most notably his cosponsoring of the 1994 tough on crime bill that contributed significantly to the subsequent mass incarceration of black Americans. The Trump campaign was able to capitalise on actual Biden gaffes, as when he told a famous black radio host that “you ain’t black” if you support Trump. The Republicans were also able to invent false accusations, claiming that Biden once referred to young Black men as “super predators” (it was actually Hillary Clinton who made that remark in the 1990s).

While attacking Biden on race, Trump’s more effective tactic was to claim credit for tangible improvements that black Americans experienced during his presidency. The President highlighted record-low pre-Covid unemployment rates for black people, as well as criminal justice reform, support for historically black colleges and universities, support from conservative black clergy, and so on. Trump’s consistent message that he has done more for black voters than any president since Abraham Lincoln, hyperbolic as it may be, seems to have actually affected a non-trivial number of black voters.

In the final weeks of the election, Trump touted a $500 billion dollar economic plan for black Americans — labelled, in a bit of Trump-style branding, the Platinum Plan. The plan was vague on specifics and unlikely to match what Republicans in Congress would actually be willing to support, but the economic promise was appealing to black celebrities such as rappers Ice Cube and Lil Wayne and to ordinary black men looking to improve their prospects.

Princeton politics professor and race scholar Omar Wasow (an old friend) commented on Twitter that “maybe, next time, instead of campaigning on ‘Stronger together’ or ‘A battle for the soul of the nation’, Democrats could try a novel slogan like ‘Jobs.’” During the pandemic, layoffs have disproportionately affected black communities. And even though the Biden campaign did have a detailed economic recovery plan, the Build Back Better plan, which both focused on job growth and incorporated policies to address racial inequities. But Biden and his camp did a poor job publicising it, rarely emphasising it in major speeches or during the debates.

Nevertheless, while Biden lost black men at the margins, his campaign appears to have won the turnout game. For a number of reasons, black men have long voted in significantly lower numbers than Black women; the gender gap among black voters is higher than the male-female difference of any other demographic, and getting more black men to vote became a key goal of Democrats this year (Republicans, by contrast, have been accused of suppressing black turnout, knowing that higher numbers of black voters will benefit Democrats overall).

The Biden campaign was particularly focused on increasing turnout in swing states with significant black urban populations: for months, the Democrats conducted voter education campaigns and provided resources to promote absentee voting among black people, who had previously been sceptical of mail-in voting. The team especially targeted black men; for example, the Biden campaign put out a series of “Shop Talk” advertisements that featured young black men meeting in black-owned barbershops to discuss issues most relevant to them.

During the last weeks of the campaign, Biden and running mate Kamala Harris, who will be the first black vice president, made high profile appearances to drum up in-person black votes for Election Day. They framed black turnout as a justice issue, denouncing  suppression efforts and appealing to the legacy of recently-deceased Congressman John Lewis, a Civil Rights Movement icon who championed black voting rights.

Biden’s efforts to bring in high numbers of black voters appears to have paid off. Because mail-in ballots are processed last in many American states, we only started to see their effect days after the vote. Biden seems to have won overwhelming support from mail-in votes coming out of heavily black urban areas such as Atlanta and Philadelphia. These numbers could well have pushed him to his narrow win in Pennsylvania, which secured his overall victory.

So, yes, the Democratic Party does still have an edge with black voters. But if it doesn’t want to continue losing ground among black men in particular, it would do well to pair its mobilisation efforts and justice agenda with the type of economic appeals that were effective for Donald Trump. Perhaps it really is as simple as a slogan like, “Jobs”.


Dr Christopher Rhodes is a Lecturer at Boston University’s College of General Studies.
PReligions

Join the discussion


Join like minded readers that support our journalism by becoming a paid subscriber


To join the discussion in the comments, become a paid subscriber.

Join like minded readers that support our journalism, read unlimited articles and enjoy other subscriber-only benefits.

Subscribe
Subscribe
Notify of
guest

20 Comments
Most Voted
Newest Oldest
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
David George
David George
3 years ago

It can’t have helped the Dems value to the largest group of crime victims, African Americans, to be promoting the defunding of the police.

“The man who spearheaded a global initiative to decriminalize homosexuality is a homophobe.

The man who negotiated 4 historic peace deals and managed to avoid having to go to war against a NATO ally is a warmonger.

The man who brought troops home does not value the US military.

The man who fixed the VA thinks people wounded or killed in war are “losers and suckers”.

The man who increased funding for black colleges and universities and locked it in for 10 years hates black people.

The man who created Opportunity Zones to revitalize distressed communities hates minorities.

The man who champions school choice hates the poor.

The man who presided over the biggest increase in median household earnings in decades hates the middle class.

The man who began closing the wealth gap is only in it for his own financial gain.

The man who reduced our dependence on communist China hates democracy.

The man who reopened the Iron Range and created hundreds of thousands of high paying resource jobs hates the working class.

The first man in American history whose net worth went down while he was president is a greedy fat cat.

The man who instituted prison reform and criminal justice reform is a racist sociopath.

The man who had a record number of small donations to his campaign and funded much of it out of his own pocket is a Wall Street shill.

The man who doesn’t take a salary as president is not paying his fair share.

The man who appointed the first openly gay person to his cabinet is anti-gay.

The man who wants to take his case to court and let the court decide is a dictator.

The man who followed the constitution and allowed the states to generate their own coronavirus policy failed on coronavirus.

The man who presided over the single largest quarterly rise in GDP is destroying the economy.

The man who told his supporters to vote in person so there’d be no cheating is trying to steal the election.

We are officially living in upside down land.”
Karen Straughan

Zhirayr Nersessian
Zhirayr Nersessian
3 years ago
Reply to  David George

Excellent post. “Inverted” reality to put it another way. I think conservatives such as Larry Elder, Thomas Sowell and Coleman Hughes really helped many ethnics see through the cr@p.

Julie S
Julie S
3 years ago
Reply to  David George

Starting with the title of this article – more of this insanity! VP Pence said it well to Harris, “You can have your own opinion, but you cannot have your own facts.”

Fraser Bailey
Fraser Bailey
3 years ago

This article is full of nonsense. Biden is guilty of far more racist rhetoric, over the years, than Trump, who received various awards from the NAACP.

The Proud Boys, to the extent that they are led by anyone, are led my a mixed-race African-Cuban man.

Anyone who has been following Candace Owens, Officer Tatum, Larry Elder, Anthony Logan Brown and other prominent black Trump supporters was not at all surprised that Trump received an increased vote share from black voters. Indeed, I was disappointed that it did not track higher.

The fact is that Trump increased his percentages among every racial, ethnic, gender and LGBQT group except white men.

Alex Lekas
Alex Lekas
3 years ago
Reply to  Fraser Bailey

The fact is that Trump increased his percentages among every racial, ethnic, gender and LGBQT group except white men.
Making Trump the worst sexist/racist/homophobe ever.

Kevin Ryan
Kevin Ryan
3 years ago
Reply to  Fraser Bailey

If you’re being honest about it, you’ll admit that Tarrio (a Cuban-American ex-con) is part of a flimsy attempt at a rebrand by the Proud Boys. They are a neo-fascist hate group, founded by a white supremacist, which promotes violence for political ends. They are very obviously closely affiliated with the white supremacy movement. Tarrio is lipstick on a pig, fooling no-one, except those who choose to turn a blind eye. But don’t me let me stop you, tell us some more about the poor misunderstood Proud Boys and why you think it’s important to defend them.

thejameslowe
thejameslowe
3 years ago
Reply to  Kevin Ryan

I love the idea that a white supremacist group could be so commited to masking their true intentions that they elect an actual black person to lead them. Some of their chapters even consist predominantly of ethnic minorities. If only the KKK had thought of that ðƾ˜‚

Robin P
Robin P
3 years ago

Why is NO-ONE talking about the huge fault in the Biden “Victory”?

A crucial principle of democratic elections is the SECRET BALLOT. Secret voting booths were introduced because previously voters were intimidated by “superior” more powerful people to vote for candidates not of their choosing.

With postal voting it is impossible to prevent such intimidation, because the voting no longer takes place in a supervised voting booth. It follows that an election with any significant proportion of mail-in voting is invalid due to breach of the secret ballot principle. Postal voting can be justified only in respect of people who would be unable to travel to a voting booth.

So while Trump’s words about vote-stealing are incompetently-expressed, they actually have a profound truth behind them.

The election of Biden is in breach of a fundamental principle shared by all European countries – yet no-one is talking about it.

Brian Fereday
Brian Fereday
3 years ago
Reply to  Robin P

You make a good point
But it should have been made before the election not after you get a result you don’t like.
I may be wrong but postal votes were around when H Clinton lost unexpectedly. Trump has had four years to rectify this, he himself used a postal vote (I believe).
But I agree that if you want to be part of an election process you should turn up and vote in a booth in total anonymity.

Peter Kriens
Peter Kriens
3 years ago
Reply to  Robin P

Very good point. I’ve been pondering on this issue as well for some weeks. It surprises me that this is not discussed in more forums.

A similar thing that flumoxes me is that New York did not start boarding up until it looked Biden might lose. Clearly they were not afraid of T. voters.

L Paw
L Paw
3 years ago

Outrageous article, there is ample footage easily available of the burning, looting and use of firearms and horrible intimidation by the BLM side during the BLM protests in US.
So ‘white actors’ supporting BLM and committing violence and intimidating people not making their salute is OK now?
And white people can’t distinguish between protest and riots……
Just imagine the outcry by BLM supporting Liberals if anyone claimed that ‘black people cannot distinguish between protest and riots…..’ Immediately denounced as racists and bigots.

Alex Lekas
Alex Lekas
3 years ago

The President’s often-racist rhetoric was mitigated by his economic promises.
Rhetoric like what? For four years, this claim has been presented as an article of faith and for four years, any challenge for evidence has cited a grossly out of context quote on illegal immigration from Mexico and an early 1970s court case over housing.

When this alleged racist grabs more non-white vote than any Repub since 1960, the claim falls flat. As it is, the left predictably turns on any minority who dares to deviate from leftist dogma and much of the media is repeating the same tired “America is still racist” BS. Apparently no one sees the irony in this charge being levied by minorities working at the heights of media. If racism was a real issue, Charles Blow would be working for a neighborhood weekly in Harlem, not the NYT, and no one would ever have to hear anything from the limited mind of Jemele Hill.

Meghan Kathleen Jamieson
Meghan Kathleen Jamieson
3 years ago

The Democrats are going to have to be careful, or they could end up losing “the black vote” in much the same way they can no longer count on the white working class vote, or the Catholic vote. You cannot just tell people you are working in their interests without listening to their beliefs and concerns. The economic interests of working class black voters aren’t really different than white working class voters, and they are similarly socially conservative. Lincoln may have been “the most racist president” but that should be a lesson. Voters don’t necessarily worry much about a candidates private views, which they can’t really know anyway – and often no candidate really reflects their views anyway. They care what the candidate and his party have done for them, materially and concretely.

I think the author’s analysis here of the effect of BLM is a little too simple. I’m sure some voters have tended to fail to differentiate bad actors from other protestors, but I’m not sure that was the main point for many. Many many people, especially those living in communities with a lot of crime, were unimpressed by the “defund the police” rhetoric. And as much as some claimed this wasn’t meant literally, it was clear that many within the BLM organisations did intend that meaning. Te experiments with police=free areas were not successes, and it was clear those pushing them were anarchists, which doesn’t appeal to most citizens. This is true of people across the race divide.

It’s interesting to me that despite continued claims that a Sanders campaign would have been less successful than a Biden campaign with black voters, Sanders approach to race issue was essentially to look to the shared interests of working class voters across race, things like “Jobs!”

G Harris
G Harris
3 years ago

Time to see if a superannuated leopard can change his spots.

Over to you, Joe.

Lydia R
Lydia R
3 years ago

I’m looking forward to seeing the bratty Antifa/BLM kick off when Uncle Joe doesn’t deliver the Socialist Paradise.

Kevin Ryan
Kevin Ryan
3 years ago
Reply to  Lydia R

You, and so many others on the alt-right. Why do you think that supporters of he Black Lives Matter movement are brats? Do you really think that Joe Biden is a socialist? Why would it give you so much pleasure to see the country fail under Biden? So much of alt-right politics seems to me to be driven by spite. I see it all over this forum but struggle to understand it. I think it’s an emotional reaction to feeling looked down upon by a smug left.

Cathy Carron
Cathy Carron
3 years ago
Reply to  Lydia R

It’s happening already. Popcorn time.

Cathy Carron
Cathy Carron
3 years ago

Per NPR reporter (Shapiro), Kamala is not the first person of color to become Vice President; in fact, it was Charles Curtiss in the 1930’s, Hoover’s VP who was a member of the KAW Indian Nation. He spent a good deal of his childhood in ‘Indian Territory’ which was not yet a reservation as a child (Oklahoma became a state on 1907). His profile can be read on Wikipedia. An interesting person as well as an interesting period in American Indian history.

Cathy Carron
Cathy Carron
3 years ago

“The Republicans were also able to invent false accusations, claiming that Biden once referred to young Black men as “super predators” (it was actually Hillary Clinton who made that remark in the 1990s).”

Yes, Hillary did use the term’ super predators’….HOWEVER, Biden took a shortcut and used just the term ‘predators’ in promoting his 1994 crime bill.

Biden has made a number of inappropriate or even ‘racist’ statements over his career including: (1) “They’re going to put y’all back in chain” spoken to a black audience about Republicans (2) “You ain’t black unless you got Democrat” in an interview with Charlamage-the-God (3) His whole story of ‘Cornpop’ the black bad dude reeks of inappropriateness (4) Biden’s recollection of black kids wanting to touch his hairy legs at the local swimming pool where he was a life guard as a teen ……and so many others. Biden really is a man of another age. Definitely not ‘woke’ but working in it you could say.

neilyboy.forsythe
neilyboy.forsythe
3 years ago

Not patronising them?