May 28, 2020
In a recent interview, former vice president Joe Biden said black voters who would not support his candidacy “ain’t black.” After a wave of criticism, Biden apologized for his remarks later in the day. Will he still be able to rely on this core constituency of the Democratic Party in the fall?
The Biden campaign may well feel confident it has African American support. As Biden mentions often, he served as Barack Obama’s vice president for eight years, and Obama remains incredibly popular among African Americans. What’s more, black voters powered Biden’s political comeback in the Democratic primary, giving him a much-needed win in South Carolina.
But new data from the Democracy Fund + UCLA Nationscape project, which has conducted large surveys of more than 6,000 people each week since July 2019, suggests Biden may be underperforming with black voters when compared with recent Democratic presidential candidates. If that is happening, it may be because younger black Americans don’t support him as strongly as their elders.
Data collected between April 2 and May 13 indicates 79 percent of black registered voters said they would vote for Biden over President Trump. Eleven percent said they would vote for Trump, and 11 percent report being unsure of how they will vote.
Hillary Clinton’s final margin among black voters was noticeably higher. According to the 2016 Cooperative Congressional Election Survey, which is fielded by YouGov, 88 percent supported Clinton while 8 percent reported voting for Trump.
One possible explanation for this difference is that we’re comparing candidates at two different points in the race. Averaging together three weekly surveys fielded by Economist/YouGov in May, 78 percent of African Americans supported Biden while 10 percent reported they intended to vote for Trump. By contrast, averaging together the results from two surveys conducted in May 2016 suggests 80 percent of African Americans supported Clinton while 6 percent reported that they intended to vote for Trump. While hardly conclusive, these results are slightly worse for Biden and slightly better for Trump.
If Biden’s support is, in fact, lower than Clinton’s, it would appear to be driven by younger black Americans. Only 68 percent of black registered voters ages 18 to 29 say they intend to vote for Biden; 13 percent say they will vote for Trump, and 18 percent say they don’t know. By contrast, in 2016, 85 percent of young black voters reported voting for Clinton.
This gap disappears among black registered voters ages 65 and up. Ninety-one percent of black seniors intend to vote for Biden, which is similar to the 93 percent who reported voting for Clinton in 2016.
That’s not just because younger voters tend to be indecisive this many months out from the election. Trump is somewhat more popular with younger black Americans than with their elders. Just 9 percent of black seniors and 14 percent of those ages 45 to 64 who are registered to vote have a favorable opinion of Trump. By contrast, 21 percent of black voters ages 18 to 29 and 29 percent of black voters ages 30 to 44 have a favorable view of the president.
In addition, there is also a notable age gap in feelings toward Biden. Only 57 percent of black registered voters ages 18 to 29 say they have a favorable opinion of Biden. By contrast, 88 percent of black seniors say they view the former vice president favorably, including 72 percent who have a very favorable perception of him.
With six months left in the campaign, these levels of support may change as the two presidential campaigns make their 2020 pitch.
On the one hand, the Trump campaign has at times tried to expand support within the black community. Most recently, it announced a $1 million ad buy targeted at black voters. These efforts may bear fruit. On the other hand, the Biden campaign will no doubt leverage its close ties to Obama. Nor is it a coincidence that Biden’s shortlist for vice president includes three African American women — Val Demings, Kamala D. Harris and Stacey Abrams. Since presidential campaigns tend to win over voting groups already predisposed to support one party over another, Biden’s campaign may still win over more younger black voters.
Given that black voters make up a substantial portion of the electorate in several potential swing states — including Florida, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Georgia and North Carolina — these efforts may prove pivotal in 2020.