Is Trump Really Making Gains With Black and Latino Voters?

Georgia Holds Senate Runoff Election Between Rafael Warnock And Herschel Walker

A voter casts his ballot at a polling station for the U.S. Senate runoff election on December 6, 2022, in Atlanta, Georgia.
Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

Among the many sources of fear and panic for Democrats during this fateful election year have been claims that key elements of the Democratic Party base, particularly young voters and people of color, are abandoning Joe Biden for, believe it or not, Donald Trump. The reported young voter trend away from Biden is probably more understandable given how this group has been impacted by inflation-related reductions in real wages, high interest rates, unaffordable housing costs, and the failure to forgive student loans (though that was the Court’s doing, not Biden’s). Younger voters also tend disproportionately to wind up being nonvoters, and in their case the big trend is less toward Trump than toward non-major-party candidates (like RFK Jr.).

But among non-white voters, the polls keep showing shocking gains by Trump at Biden’s expense, as Ron Brownstein observes at CNN:

Both national and battleground state public polls consistently show Trump, at this point, drawing more support from Black and Hispanic voters than any Republican nominee since at least 1960. When The New York Times/Siena CollegeNBC NewsWall Street Journal and CBS News/YouGov all released national polls a few days apart earlier this month, each of them found Trump winning from 20% to 28% of Black voters and 45% to 48% of Hispanic voters. That’s far more than the 12% of Black, and 32% of Hispanic, voters he won in 2020, according to the Edison Research exit polls conducted for a consortium of news organizations including CNN. (The Pew Validated Voters study found Trump winning slightly fewer Black, and slightly more Hispanic, voters in the 2020 election.) A CNBC poll released Tuesday showed Biden drawing just 57% of all voters of color, compared to 71% in the 2020 exit poll.

The relative strength of the two parties among Latino voters has always been a controversial topic thanks to differences in polling methodologies and how that group is defined. There have always been large pockets of such voters (e.g., Florida’s Cuban American and South American populations) receptive to the GOP’s message and relatively indifferent to Democratic appeals centered on immigrants from Central America (Puerto Ricans, for example, as U.S. citizens, are naturally less interested in immigration policy). Certain trends among Latinos (e.g., income gains and the growth of conservative-Protestant churchgoing) have made some long-term improvement in the Republican vote share inevitable.

But Trump’s apparent strength among Black voters is harder to rationalize — and perhaps even to believe. As Emory University political scientist Alan Abramowitz explains at Larry Sabato’s Crystal Ball, some skepticism toward the polls is in order, based on his comparison of six major national polls with recent election results:

On average, Donald Trump received 18% of the vote from Black voters who expressed a preference for either Trump or Biden in the six national polls. If that result were to hold up in November, it would represent by far the highest level of Black support for a Republican presidential candidate in the past 60 years … No GOP candidate since Richard Nixon in 1960 has won more than 13% of the Black vote with only Nixon in 1972 and George W. Bush in 2004 topping 10%. The average level of Black support for Republican presidential candidates in the 10 elections between 1984 and 2020 was just under 6%.

There has been some talk about Trump’s gains among Black voters in the polls being attributable to a big movement among particular subgroups, particularly young Black men. But as Abramowitz notes from the authoritative American National Election Studies data, there were no major differences in the Biden-Trump numbers last time they met at the polls. In 2020, Biden won 93 percent of Black men along with 95 percent of Black women — and won 94 percent of non-college-educated Black voters along with 93 percent of their college-educated counterparts. He won at least 91 percent in every age cohort of Black voters.

So was there some big pro-GOP trend among Black voters in the 2022 midterms that helps explain what’s happening now? Abramowitz doesn’t find one:

Leaving aside the Ohio gubernatorial race in which a very popular Republican incumbent won a landslide victory over a weak, underfunded Democratic challenger, the average level of support for Republican candidates among Black voters in 2022 was about 10%. This is very similar to the average level of support for GOP House, Senate, and gubernatorial candidates among Black voters over the past few decades.

Abramowitz suggests some of the eye-popping numbers we’ve seen this year for Trump among Black voters may represent an illusion based on limited samples that can and should be addressed by surveys oversampling Black voters to get a more accurate look at what’s happening.

But as Brownstein argues, whatever level of support Trump has among Black or Latino voters could be driven down with some targeted messaging from the Biden campaign and the Democratic Party. Trump is providing the ammunition for this kind of counterattack with his own racially and ethnically offensive rhetoric, which he’s ladling out in bigger servings than he did even in 2016:

Even as polls show Trump posting unprecedented Republican numbers among Hispanics, he is promising the largest deportation drive of undocumented migrants in American history, including the creation of detention camps and the use of the National Guard to participate in mass round ups; military action against Mexico, including a naval blockade, to combat drug cartels; the end of birthright citizenship; and the possible reinstitution of his policy of separating migrant children from their parents at the border.

Activists working in the community say that very few Hispanic voters know that Trump is proposing any of this …

The situation with Black voters is similar. Even as Trump is posting historic numbers among Blacks, he has proposed, as a condition of receiving federal funds, to prohibit school districts from discussing “critical race theory” in classrooms, and to require local police departments to implement the “stop and frisk” tactics that civil rights leaders say unfairly target young Black men.

In the end, a vote is a vote, and both Abramowitz and Brownstein note that any losses Biden is suffering among non-white voters are being at least partially offset by his continuing strength among white voters, particularly the very-likely-to-vote college-educated group. If, as Republicans hope, non-white voters (including Asian Americans, a smaller but growing group that is often not polled at all) turn out to be the crucial swing vote in 2024, it’s far from clear they will tilt toward the candidate whose vision of a restored American Greatness is so consistently exciting to white supremacists.

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