Black Voters’ Shift to Trump Is a Warning Sign for Biden, Strategists Say
Black voters are more disconnected from the Democratic Party than they have been in decades, frustrated with what many see as inaction on their political priorities and unhappy with President Biden, a candidate they helped lift to the White House just three years ago.
A new poll by The New York Times and Siena College found that 22 percent of Black voters in six of the most important battleground states said they would support former President Donald J. Trump in next year’s election, and 71 percent would back Mr. Biden.
The drift in support is striking, given that Mr. Trump won just 8 percent of Black voters nationally in 2020 and 6 percent in 2016, according to the Pew Research Center. A Republican presidential candidate has not won more than 12 percent of the Black vote in nearly half a century.
Mr. Biden has a year to shore up his standing, but if numbers like these held up across the country in November 2024, they would amount to a historic shift: No Democratic presidential candidate since the civil rights era has earned less than 80 percent of the Black vote.
The new polling offers an early warning sign about the erosion of Mr. Biden’s coalition, Democratic strategists said, cautioning that the president will probably lose his re-election bid if he cannot increase his support from this pivotal voting bloc.
A number of Democratic strategists acknowledged that the downbeat numbers in battleground states extended beyond Black voters to the party’s core constituencies, warning that the Biden campaign had to take steps to improve its standing, particularly with Black, Latino and younger voters. The Times/Siena poll surveyed registered voters in Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Nevada, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.
Celinda Lake, a Democratic pollster for Mr. Biden’s campaign in 2020, said the president’s political operation had not been “present enough” for Black Americans and younger voters.
“I don’t think we’ve been voicing what we delivered to the African American community and particularly among younger African American men,” she said. “We have to get the numbers up and we have to get African American voters out to vote, and we have to get the numbers up with young people and we have to get them out to vote.”
Mr. Biden’s numbers in the poll were particularly low among Black men. Twenty-seven percent of Black men supported Mr. Trump, compared with 17 percent of Black women.
Still, there are signs that Democrats’ hurdles with Black voters, however alarming for the party, leave room for improvement. About a quarter of Black voters who said they planned to support Mr. Trump said there was some chance they would end up backing Mr. Biden.
Cornell Belcher, who worked as a pollster for former President Barack Obama, said he doubted that many Black voters would switch their support to Mr. Trump. His bigger fear, he said, is that they might not vote at all.
“I’m not worried about Trump doubling his support with Black and brown voters,” said Mr. Belcher, who focuses particularly on surveying voters of color. “What I am worried about is turnout.”
He added: “But that’s what campaigns are for. We build a campaign to solve for that problem.”
Karen Wright, a business consultant in McDonough, Ga., who immigrated to the United States from Jamaica in 1982, said she had always voted for Democrats, seeing them as the best option for younger immigrants, particularly those from predominantly Black countries like hers.
Now, though, she believes Mr. Biden has not followed through on his campaign promises on immigration, worries that Democrats have gone too far in their embrace of L.G.B.T.Q. issues and faults them for books used in public education that she believes are too sexually explicit.
Next year, Ms. Wright, 53, said that she planned to support Republicans up and down the ballot — and that she was not alone.
“My clients are mostly Black,” she said. “They voted Democrat last year and they all said next election they’re going to vote Republican.”
Angela Lang, the executive director of Black Leaders Organizing for Communities, a group that aims to mobilize Black voters in Milwaukee, said canvassers who worked with her organization had encountered an overwhelming number of Black voters who did not want to vote or did not see the value in turning out again.
“People are like: ‘Why should I vote? I don’t feel like voting. Voting doesn’t do anything. My life hasn’t changed,’” she said, adding that the group had found that high prices and housing instability had fed people’s pessimism. “If your basic needs aren’t being met, it’s difficult to pay attention to politics and it’s difficult to have faith in that system when you voted before but you’re still struggling day to day.”
Still, Cliff Albright, a veteran progressive organizer and a co-founder of Black Voters Matter, said Democrats had time to get back on track. Black voters, he said, are responding to the same fears about economic and global uncertainty that many Americans are confronting.
“We’re a year out from the election,” Mr. Albright said. “If you ask the very same people the same question a year from now, when the choice is very clear, the same 22 percent might have a very different answer.”
He added: “Is there work to be done? Yes. But is the sky falling? No.”
Black voters have long powered Democratic presidential victories. Their support in South Carolina in 2020 set Mr. Biden on the path to becoming the nominee. During the general election, Black voters were again crucial to his victory.
Biden campaign officials now say they recognize they have work to do with Black voters, and they and their allies have begun multimillion-dollar engagement campaigns targeting them.
Last month, the Biden campaign started an organizing program in Black neighborhoods in Milwaukee. The campaign has dispatched top surrogates to hold events aimed at Black voters and has bought advertising on Black radio programs that promotes the “real difference for Black America” his policies have made. “President Biden is getting it done,” a narrator says. “For us. And that’s the facts.”
Quentin Fulks, the deputy campaign manager for Mr. Biden, said, “We know we have to get to work and we have to communicate with these voters and we have to do it earlier than ever before.”
In interviews, Black voters said they had seen little progress from the Biden administration on some of their top priorities, including student loan debt relief, affordable housing and accountability for the police.
Some worried that Mr. Biden was more focused on foreign policy than on domestic issues like inflation. In the Times/Siena poll, 80 percent of Black voters rated the economy as “only fair” or “poor.”
A few said that their openness to supporting Mr. Trump, despite his offensive comments about Black communities and the 91 felony charges he faces in several criminal cases, reflected their disaffection with Mr. Biden and his party more than any real affinity for the former president.
Keyon Reynolds-Martin, a father of one in Milwaukee, praised what he saw as Mr. Trump’s prioritizing of the economy and domestic policy, recalling the stimulus checks he received during the pandemic. Mr. Trump initially did not support the relief checks, which were spearheaded by Democrats. He later affixed his signature to them, representing the first time a president’s name had appeared on an Internal Revenue Service disbursement.
Mr. Reynolds-Martin, 25, said he planned to vote for Mr. Trump next fall, when he casts his first ballot ever.
Of Mr. Biden, he said, “He’s not giving money to help the United States, but he’s giving money to other countries,” adding, “At least Donald Trump was trying to help the United States.”
Talitha McLaren, 45, a home health aide in Philadelphia, said she was undecided about whether to vote in 2024.
She worries about a total erosion of democracy under a second Trump administration, but she is also frustrated with Mr. Biden and his party for failing to tackle rising costs that have not kept pace with her income and for not providing help with her student loan debt. On Tuesday, she plans to vote for the Democrat running for mayor of her hometown.
“Don’t get me wrong, I’m going to support the Democrats,” she said. “But they haven’t won me over yet on what they’re trying to do for the country. Because what they’re doing now ain’t working.”
Alyce McFadden and Ruth Igielnik contributed reporting.