By Christopher Tidmore, Contributing Writer, Louisiana Weekly
Donald Trump earned a historically high African-American vote in his bid for reelection of at least 12 percent, according to results of 2020 exit polls by Edison Research – an improvement of four percent over his 2016 totals. The problem was that the president needed more than 20 percent of Blacks nationwide to win thanks to his eroding support in Caucasian suburbs and with other traditionally Republican groups who supported him four years ago.
Nevertheless, a subtle shift in African-American voters in Philadelphia, Detroit or Milwaukee would have denied the Oval Office to Joe Biden. One out of every three Black men living in the Midwest did vote for Trump, according to NBC News. If that Black support had been even slightly higher, Donald Trump would have slept in the White House for the next four years.
African-American voters constitute the main reason that Joe Biden won – especially the Great Lakes states. His 20,000-vote win in Wisconsin, his 150,000-vote victory in Michigan, and his effective tie in Pennsylvania came down to African-American voters turning out in bigger numbers than in 2016, and mostly opting for the Democratic presidential candidate.
In Milwaukee and surrounding Milwaukee County, where the largest share of Black voters in Wisconsin live, Barack Obama won roughly 328,000 votes in 2012. Four years later, Clinton won fewer than 289,000 votes in Milwaukee County. As Tim Alberta of Politico noted, “The challenge for Biden wasn’t necessarily to get all the way back to that Obama 2012 number; rather, at the bare minimum, it was to split the difference between these figures. He did that and then some: With all the votes counted, more than 317,000 people in Milwaukee County voted for the Democratic ticket, and Biden needed every single one of them.”
“It was a similar story in Detroit, a city that’s more than 80 percent Black, and surrounding Wayne County. In 2012, Obama won nearly 596,000 votes in Wayne County. Four years later, Clinton won fewer than 520,000. Once again, the question in Michigan – as in Wisconsin – was whether Biden could push that figure somewhere close to that Obama 2012 number…But Biden has already won 568,000 votes there, far surpassing Clinton’s performance from 2016.”
Continuing the argument, in Flint, Mich., and surrounding Genesee County, Democrats went from winning nearly 129,000 votes in 2012 to some 103,000 votes in 2016. Biden topped 120,000 votes in the county. Trump lost Michigan by just over 150,000 votes.
This trend continued in Philadelphia with the city’s plurality African-American electorate. The vote count continues at the time that The Louisiana Weekly went to press, yet Biden appears poised to exceed Obama 2012 and Clinton 2016 numbers in Philadelphia County well into the 600,000-vote range. His appeals to both Black voters (who came out for Obama) as well as affluent whites (who supported Clinton) seem to have worked. To achieve the presidency, Joe Biden never needed Obama-era levels of turnout and support from Black voters. With this coalition, he just had to exceed Hillary Clinton’s performance in 2016.
Still, there were some warning signs for Democrats on November 3. Some socially conservative African-American voters, particularly Black men, have started to display Republican sympathies. Black voters constituted 11 to 12 percent of the electorate, according to The Associated Press and Edison, respectively. The AP found that 90 percent of Black voters went to Biden and eight percent to Trump, yet Edison Research determined that 87 percent of Black voters voted for Biden and 12 percent for Trump.
Where both surveys agree is that each found Black men were more likely than Black women to support Trump. In the AP’s case, 12 percent of Black male voters backed Trump, compared to six percent of Black women; in Edison’s case, 18 percent of Black male voters cast ballots for Trump, while eight percent of Black women did the same. In fact, a third survey, an NBC News poll of early and Election Day voters, said that Trump’s support was even stronger amongst males than either of the other polls, claiming almost 80 percent of Black men supported Hilary Clinton’s 82 percent in 2016 but significantly down from Barack Obama’s level of support among Black men in 2012 and 2008.
Most frightening for Democrats, one in three African-American men living in the Midwest also voted for Trump. The NBC poll also noted that there was an unusual relationship between education and how Black men voted this year. About 26 percent of African-American males who had a high school diploma or less supported Trump. But 22 percent of Black men with bachelor’s degrees and 20 percent of Black men with advanced degrees also supported him. (African-American males with some college education broke for Biden at levels comparable to those of Black women.)
Therefore, the Caucasian GOP gender gap has entered the African-American electorate, at least to some degree. The polls appear to suggest that Trump’s message of economic improvement did have resonance among some Black voters, along with appeals for educational reform and a generally socially conservative message to some religious voters. As the secular wealthy white electorate decamps for the Democrats, improving support from African Americans along with rising backing from Hispanics could provide a viable winning coalition for the GOP. After all, while Donald Trump lost, the Republicans picked up two legislative chambers, a net six seats in the U.S. House, a majority of governorships, and held the U.S. Senate. The highest and most racially diverse turnout in American history did not translate into a “Blue Wave.”
This article originally published in the November 9, 2020 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.