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American University Survey: Young Black Americans Are Key 2020 Swing Voters Fewer Than Half Say They Will Vote for Biden, While Many May Not Vote at All

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Voters holding election buttons

A new survey of Black Americans in six battleground states released today by American University’s Black Swing Voter Project finds that Black men and women under 30, compared to their elders, have far less trust in elected officials and far less enthusiasm for voting, former Vice President Joe Biden and the Democratic Party.

Fewer than half (47%) of respondents aged 18 to 29 say they plan to vote for Biden, while 8% support President Trump and 45% say they will vote for someone else, won’t vote, or aren’t sure. Younger Black Americans constitute a key set of swing voters – between voting Democratic and opting out – that could impact 2020. Older Black Americans, by contrast, express far more support for Biden: 73% of respondents 30 and older plan to vote for Biden, and among those 60 and over it’s close to 90%.   

The survey finds that Biden’s chances will markedly improve if he chooses a Black running mate. He would gain 49% of those who otherwise say they are unlikely to vote or likely to vote for someone else; that will increase his overall support among 18-29 year-olds to 73%.

“Looking at 2020, this survey is a flashing yellow light for Joe Biden and the Democrats, who have yet to capture the support of younger Black voters,” said David Barker, Director of the Center for Congressional and Presidential Studies at American University’s School of Public Affairs, and one of three AU researchers who conducted this study. “Democrats cannot expect support from this new generation of Black Americans – they have to earn it.”

The survey also found:

  • Biden v. Trump: When younger Black Americans were asked if Trump is a racist, nearly four in five agree. When asked for words to describe Trump, 90 percent were unambiguously negative. When asked to describe Biden, 46 percent of the words were unambiguously positive and 31 percent were unambiguously negative.
  • A silver lining for President Trump: When given the statement “I do not always like President Trump's policies, but I like the way President Trump shows strength and defies the establishment,” 35% of respondents 18-29 and 40% of those 30-44 agree, with men at a far higher rate than women.
  • Democrats v. Republicans: Forty-seven percent of younger Black Americans say the Democratic Party is somewhat to very “welcoming” to Black people, compared to 28% who find the GOP to be welcoming. Only 7% of Black Americans 60 and older consider the Republican Party to be welcoming. When asked if they trust Democrats in Congress to do what’s best for Black people, 43% of those under-30 express some to complete trust; it’s 29% for Republicans.

The survey also revealed motivations for voting. Almost 80% of younger Black Americans say that support for the Black community is a reason to vote, but they have little faith in the political process or the parties to address their concerns with almost half of the respondents saying they generally don’t vote because “it does not make any difference anyway.”

“The voice of younger Black Americans comes through clearly in this survey: pay attention to our community, hear our concerns, address our needs,” said Sam Fulwood III, a fellow at AU’s Center for Congressional and Presidential Studies. “We may lean one way politically, but don’t take our vote for granted or expect us to support you or your party if all we get is lip service and no real change to the status quo.”

The survey also revealed attitudes toward police and a lack of faith in elected officials and the political process. When respondents 18-29 were asked if they “fear the police may harm you or people that you care about,” 80 percent say “yes,” and 82% say the criminal justice system often treats Black people unfairly. When asked who is most effective in ensuring that change takes place on issues like police misconduct, younger Black Americans rank Black Lives Matter higher than any other group, with elected officials coming in seventh behind Black elected officials, protesters, educators, business leaders, and journalists.

“We need this generation of Black Americans to engage politically, but the candidates and the political system need to engage them,” said Leonard Steinhorn, a professor in American University’s School of Communication. “Not meeting them halfway will turn them into voters who swing not between the political parties but between grudging engagement and opting out – and neither is healthy for our democracy.”

The survey – a representative sample of 1,215 randomly selected Black respondents from Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Georgia and Florida with an overweight of 593 of 18-29 year-olds – was conducted online from July 1-9 by the African American Research Collaborative, a national survey research firm specializing in the African American community.