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Swing State Black Voters May Be Swinging Away From Biden

More troubling signs for the incumbent’s attempt to shore up a key voting bloc.

For most of the last 60 years in the United States, the Democratic Party has relied on black voters to pull its candidates for office over the finish lines of many a close election at the state, local, and federal levels. Research shows that this group represents a steadily increasing percentage of Democrat voters. Outside of the Democratic Party and its supporters, though, many have argued that Democrats have taken the black vote for granted. More and more, it does seem as though an increasing number of blacks are coming to the same conclusion. It’s a safe bet that Joe Biden will win the lion’s share of the black vote in the November presidential election. Still, two recent polls of black voters conducted in two crucial swing states indicate that the incumbent could be on track to notch up a historic achievement for a Democratic presidential candidate – but not in the way that Biden or his party would like.

USA TODAY/Suffolk University surveyed 500 black voters in Michigan and the same number in Pennsylvania on June 9-13. In a hypothetical general election matchup between Biden and Donald Trump, 56.2% of black voters in Pennsylvania said they would go for Biden, and 10.8% said they would vote for Trump. In Michigan, 54.4% favored Biden, while 15.2% would pull the lever for Trump.

According to a report in The Hill, these percentages in favor of Biden are down 20 points from the percentage of blacks who voted for him in 2020 in Pennsylvania and down 22 percentage points in Michigan.

Where Are Black Voters Turning?

It is hard to discern from just these two polls how much of an inroad Trump is making with black voters in these two states. A significant number of those surveyed – who said they voted for Biden in 2020 but would not vote for him in 2024 – claimed to be either undecided or expressed a preference for one of the third-party candidates. In both states, 13.8% of the voters polled said they were undecided.

GettyImages-1177749682 Cornel West

Cornel West (Photo by Jessica Rinaldi/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)

In Pennsylvania, independent Cornel West came out on top in the third-party candidate field, beating out Robert F. Kennedy Jr., 7.6% to 7.4%. In Michigan, 8% of the black voters surveyed said they would pick Kennedy, while 6.2% supported West.

It is worth noting that USA TODAY does not say whether the 1,000 total polled are registered voters or likely voters. In the world of political polling, that is very much a distinction with a difference.

Looking back over the last six presidential elections, black voters have held fairly steady for the Democratic candidate. Understandably, Barack Obama claimed a notably larger share of that demographic. In the 2000 presidential election, Al Gore claimed 90% of the black vote. Obama took 95% in 2008 and 93% when he ran for re-election in 2012. In 2016, 89% of black voters went for Hillary Clinton, and 87% of them supported Biden in 2020. These numbers are from Cornell University’s Roper Center for Public Opinion Research.

Reading the Tea Leaves

Polling numbers can be interpreted in all kinds of ways, of course, and the 2024 election is still more than four months away. The results of these Pennsylvania and Michigan polls may well concern the Biden campaign, but at the same time they certainly do not indicate that black voters are flocking to Trump.

Team Biden might take heart from the fact that a lot of the black voters polled, who said they were undecided or favored a third-party candidate, will, at crunch time, go ahead and pull the lever for the incumbent. Whether that will be because they decide he is deserving of another four years or because they dislike Trump enough to hold their nose and vote for Biden would hardly matter to the cynical politico. A vote is a vote, after all.

The Trump camp could also discern a silver lining here. How many of those undecideds will break for Trump when it comes time to cast ballots? Considering that the black community has been bombarded for seven and a half years by an unrelenting campaign to paint Trump as a racist, how many black voters are simply unwilling to admit to pollsters that they intend to vote for the man?

Using numbers from the Roper Center again, Trump claimed 8% of the black vote in 2016. In 2020, he increased his share of black voters to 12%. What if, hypothetically, the former president and would-be next president expanded his slice of the black vote by that same amount once again? Could Trump really win the backing of 16% of black voters? Most political observers and probably most pollsters would judge that extremely unlikely. If he did, it would almost certainly prove fatal to Biden’s chances of re-election.

The bottom line for the two main 2024 contenders is that Biden has perhaps the more difficult task. Trump winning more black support is less significant than Biden losing it – especially in certain key states like Michigan and Pennsylvania. To a large extent, one could view black voters as kingmakers in this upcoming election. They do not have to suddenly fall in love with Trump, but if enough of them decide that Biden has not delivered for them, they may conclude that another four years of Trump is at least not going to be any worse.

As much as the White House loves to paint a picture of today’s America being all unicorns and rainbows, most voters, both white and black, realize that this is an illusion. Public polling consistently shows this. Thus, with a debatable record of positive achievements to run on, the Biden campaign is betting – and hoping – that fear of Trump will secure a second term for the incumbent. Black voters in particular have been targeted with that fearmongering – and one could argue it is a campaign strategy that demeans them.

Read More From Graham J Noble

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