Data Bites: Black Americans’ Opinions of Police, Biden, and Democratic Party

(Jeff Kowalsky/AFP via Getty Images)

Written by Robert Rodriguez & Mark Joslyn. Robert is a political science professor at Texas A&M Commerce specializing in Latin American & U.S. Latino Politics

Two recent surveys focused on Black Americans’ political attitudes.  The first survey conducted by Gallup, as part of their Gallup Center on Black Voices initiative, asked  

“Would you rather the police spend more time, the same amount of time or less time as they currently spend in your area?”

More TimeSame AmountLess Time
Black Americans20%6119
White Americans177112
Total Sample196714

Most Black Americans supported current levels of policing (61%) and a fifth desired a greater police presence.  This considerable support remained among those Blacks (32%) who reported seeing police in their neighborhoods very often or often.

These results seem to contradict the progressive message to defund the police.  Clearly, most Blacks value the service police offer. 

Nevertheless, interactions with police officers is another matter.      

“If you had an interaction with police in your area, how confident are you that they would treat you with courtesy and respect?”

Very ConfidentSomewhat ConfidentNot too confidentNot at all confident
Black Americans18%432712
White Americans563572
Total Sample4837114

Nearly 40% of Blacks doubted police would treat them with courtesy and respect.  Only 9% of Whites felt that way.  Moreover, among Blacks least confident they would be treated well – 12%, 60% wanted the police presence reduced.     

What is evident here is the vast differences between Black and White Americans’ experiences with police.  These differences figure prominently in support for reforms.  For example, another Gallup survey found that neither Whites nor Blacks supported abolishing police departments.  Yet Blacks (88%) overwhelmingly supported major changes to police departments whereas a bare majority of Whites did (51%).  Reforms included improving police relations with communities and punishing abusive police practices.    

The second poll by American University Black Swing Vote Project surveyed Black Americans in the battleground states of Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Florida, North Carolina and Georgia.  Results are unexpected and should be considered a wakeup call for Democrats and Joe Biden.     

  • Vote Intention:  Biden 66%; Trump 7%; Someone Else 6%; Not Sure 10%; Not Voting 11%.  The Biden campaign has some work to do.  Hillary Clinton received high 80s to the low-90s percent of Black vote in the battleground states. Especially troublesome for Democrats is Biden’s performance among young Black Americans age 18-29.  Biden attracts only 47% of this group, while 21% said they were not voting.

The same poll indicates there is one strategy that would increase Biden’s support among African Americans in swing states: Selecting an African American running-mate. 80% of respondents said they would support Biden “if he picks a Black/African American running mate.” Even among 18-29 year old African Americans, support for Biden rises to 73%.

Biden’s selection of Senator Kamala Harris on August 11, 2020 bodes well for his prospects of support among African Americans in swing states.

  • Congress Democrats: “How much do you trust Democrats in Congress to do what is best for Black/African American community?” 57% Trust, 43% Do Not Trust.  Among 18-29-year old, Trust 43%, Do Not Trust 57%.

While these results may seem to indicate Republicans have an opportunity to recruit younger African Americans into their “Big Tent,” the same poll indicates that African Americans consider the GOP to be even less welcoming and trustworthy than Democrats:

  • Republican Party: “How welcoming do you believe the Republican party is to African Americans?”  22% welcoming, 78% unwelcoming.  This belief spans across all age groups, and nearly 4 out of 5 African Americans consider the Republican Party is not open to receiving them with open arms.
  • Congress Republicans: “How much do you trust Republicans in Congress to do what is best for Black/African American community?” 21% Trust, 79% Do Not Trust. Here again, nearly 4 out of 5 African Americans have little faith in the Republican Party to do what is best for their community.

Finally, there is the question of support for President Trump among African Americans in swing states. Even though support for Biden is lukewarm, particularly among the 18-29 age range, the prospects of voting for his opponent are fairly bleak when one considers that 84% agree with the statement that “President Trump is a racist,” while 79% agree with the statement that “President Trump is incompetent.” Even among the 18-29 category, those in agreement with those statements total 79% and 74%, respectively.

Juxtaposing the data indicating that 4 out of 5 African Americans in swing states perceive President Trump as racist with Joe Biden’s selection of an African American (and Asian American) woman as his running mate suggests that Biden is likely to receive overwhelming support from this segment of voters.

Bottom Line

For many years, analyses of Black American opinion were but a footnote in much larger surveys dedicated to majority opinion.  The sample size of Blacks was generally to small and made generalization difficult and prone to error.  Now, increasingly, opinion polls target minority groups such as Black Americans, offering large sample sizes and the capacity to generalize across the nation and within battleground states. 

As a result, analyses offer a more comprehensive and nuanced portrait of minority group preferences.  Indeed, the two surveys examined here reveal a variety of political preferences typically not ascribed to African Americans.  An overwhelming number want to maintain or increase police presence in their communities.  However, experiences with police lead them to support several important reforms. 

Attitudes toward the Democratic Party and Congressional Democrats are generally positive, but not as strongly positive as believed.  This is especially the case for young Blacks that distrust congressional Democrats and perceive the Democratic party as cold and unwelcoming.  Finally, while Biden receives strong majority support among Blacks in battleground states, he needs to improve on that support – again especially among young African Americans.

The data show that employing a strategy of electing an African American running mate would likely increase Biden’s support among African Americans in swing states among all age groups. Thus, from a strategic standpoint, Biden’s selection of Sen. Kamala Harris is not surprising.

None of the data suggest Black Americans will vote in large numbers for Trump or the Republicans.  Rather, it signals a lack of enthusiasm for Biden and declining faith in Democrats generally.  Eleven percent said they would not vote in this election – among young Blacks that figure doubled.  In the coming weeks and months, the enthusiasm and impact Sen. Harris brings to the ticket will become much more clear.     

Some believe Trump won by awakening a group of angry and frustrated white, working class, mostly male rural voters that carried him to victory.  Maybe.  But it could be that Trump won because Hillary Clinton was less attractive to the traditional Democratic base – urban minorities and the educated class.  In short, some loyal Democrats stayed home in 2016. If similar numbers stay home again in 2020, this could be problematic for the Biden campaign.

Voter turnout in Michigan illustrates the point.  Clinton lost by about 10,000 votes.  In Detroit and Wayne county, 75,000 Obama voters did not show up for Clinton.  The pattern occurred in other swing states and nationally as well.  Nearly 2 million black votes cast for Obama in 2012 did not turn out for Clinton.  Clinton received 88% of Black vote nationally, Obama 93%.

It is on to the candidate, the party, and the campaign to mobilize voters and feature candidates that kindle enthusiasm among party members.  It is also on the campaign to know the key swing states, swing districts, and swing voters that could be decisive.   The selection of Sen. Harris suggests Biden is aware of these facts and his VP pick is, in part, an effort to avoid the problems that plagued Clinton’s campaign.   

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: