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AU’s Center for Congressional & Presidential Studies Report Says Young Black Americans Are Key 2020 Swing Voters

A new survey of Black Americans in six battleground states released today by American University’s Black Swing Voter Project reveals that Black men and women under 30, compared to their elders, have far less trust in elected officials and far less enthusiasm for voting, 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. These younger Black Americans constitute a key set of swing voters – between voting Democratic and opting out – that could impact 2020 just as it did in 2016.

Older Black Americans, by contrast, express far more support for the former Vice President: among those 30 and older, 73% plan to vote for Biden, and close to 90% of those 60 and over support the Democrat.

What might improve Biden’s chances among younger voters is a Black running mate: among those under 30 who were unlikely to vote or would vote for someone else, 49% would be more inclined to vote for Biden if he picked a Black vice presidential candidate, raising his support among this group to 73%, still not as high as those older but a substantial and meaningful boost nonetheless.

The survey also found:

Biden v. Trump: Younger Black Americans are more inclined to oppose Trump than to support Biden. Nearly four in five say Trump is a racist, and when asked for words to describe him, 90% are unambiguously negative. When asked to describe Biden, they are far more ambivalent and less enthusiastic than older voters: only 46% of the words describing Biden were unambiguously positive, with 23% neutral and 31% negative.

Democrats v. Republicans: Only 47% of younger Black Americans say Democrats are somewhat to very welcoming to Black people compared to 27% who say that of the GOP. For those 60 and older, 77% say Democrats are welcoming versus 7% for Republicans. When asked if they trust Democrats in Congress to do what’s best for Black people, 44 percent of those under-30 express some to complete trust; it’s 29 percent for Republicans.

A candidate who demonstrates a deep commitment to the Black community would likely gain votes: almost 80 percent of younger Black Americans say that support for the Black community is a reason to vote. But they also have little faith in the political process or the parties to address their concerns: half say they generally don’t vote because it wouldn’t make a difference anyway, and three-fourths say that elected leaders in Washington look out not for them but for the wealthy and well-connected.

“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 and a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, one of three AU researchers who conducted this study. “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.”

Their attitudes toward police and who can effect change reflect their lack of faith in elected officials and the political process. Eighty percent say they fear the police may harm them or people they care about, and 82% say the criminal justice system often treats Black people unfairly. But when asked who is most effective in ensuring that change takes place on issues like police misconduct, younger Blacks Americans score Black Lives Matter far higher than any other group, with elected officials coming in seventh behind Black elected officials, protesters, educators, business leaders, and journalists.

If there is a silver lining for President Trump, it’s not in his policies but his willingness to speak out and challenge the status quo. 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 those 18-29 and 40% of those 30-44 say this describes them, with men agreeing at a far higher rate than women.

“We need this generation of Black Americans to engage politically, and the candidates and the political system need to engage them,” said Leonard Steinhorn, a professor in American University’s School of Communication and a CBS News Radio political analyst. “Not meeting them halfway will turn them into voters who swing not between the political parties but between grudging engagement and opting out – and for such a significant constituency, opting out is not healthy for our democracy.”

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

The survey 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.  

In addition to the survey, AU’s Black Swing Voter Project conducted six focus groups and will release a more extensive report on attitudes of Black Americans toward the political process and political institutions in the coming months.