December 21, 2023 - 10:00am

It is being widely reported that President Joe Biden and the Democratic Party may have trouble with the various minority blocs that constitute a crucial slice of its voting base.  Many Arab Americans and Muslim American voters, who could be crucial in a swing state like Michigan in 2024, feel alienated by the Biden administration’s almost unwavering support for Israel in its bombardment of Gaza. But more crucially, according to recent polls, the support of black Americans is starting to dissipate, too. In January 2021, black support for Biden was 86%; currently, it is at a record low of 60%. 

Since the 1960s, black Americans have been a solid and reliable voting constituency for the Democrats, the “progressive” liberal party, consistently voting in large majorities across multiple elections. This is despite many having traditional and socially conservative beliefs. But the recent polls demonstrate that this support is not absolute. 

Ethnic minority discontent with Biden is partially to do with the economy and inflation (which is hitting black communities the hardest). But there is something deeper at work. Cynicism and apathy have developed from the impression of being continuously mobilised by the Democrats and “official” black leaders based on racial communalism. They are told that voting for the party is in their interest, only to later see little personal benefit. Black voters are called into action to be the rearguard of the movement against Donald Trump, not on the basis of a proactive and wider social vision for America in which their condition is ameliorated. 

The October gubernatorial election in Louisiana won by Republican Jeff Landry is a preview of what could occur in 2024. His victory was secured in part due to low black voter turnout, especially in parishes with high black populations. When this is broken down by gender, one can see that a significant portion of black men are more approving of Trump (though the majority still vote Democrat). They don’t take accusations of tyranny against the former president seriously: given the current poverty and discrimination faced by African Americans, they figure Trump can’t be much worse. Many loathe “wokeness” and associated movements such as Black Lives Matter because they see it as the new “official” ideology, and inherently antagonistic to their interests as traditional men. 

An interesting trend is that since 2020, gun ownership and purchases among black Americans, especially black women, have soared, which flies in the face of the Democrats’ usual tub-thumping on gun control. Implicit here is a lack of trust in the police and the state, currently run by the Democrats, both due to police brutality and ineptitude at solving murders in poor black communities. If order can’t be maintained and black communities aren’t seriously protected from predatory criminality, which disproportionately harms them, armed self-defence begins to feel like the next best insurance policy. 

The polls could well change. Closer to election day, with the possibility of Trump returning to the White House, discontented black Americans may vote Democrat out of habit, or out of a fear which is then exploited by the party. 

In any case, black Americans, especially those who are working-class, are in a politically awkward place. They are needed by the Democrats, but have no leverage over the party to extract serious policies that would substantially improve their condition, both socially and materially. The political establishment has proven for decades that it can’t benefit the great mass of black America. Yet many African Americans want an alternative to the stale status quo — not just as black people, but as American citizens. When that alternative will arise is an open question. Perhaps we’re witnessing its beginning.

Ralph Leonard is a British-Nigerian writer on international politics, religion, culture and humanism.