Black Votes Count: President Trump and the Midterm Elections

September 5, 2018 Updated: September 12, 2018

Will President Donald Trump’s courtship of black voters yield enough votes to make a difference in the November midterm elections? That is the question of the hour. In any event, Republican time spent wooing black voters might have a huge payoff, given the tendency of Democrats to take their most loyal constituency for granted.

What is the Trump strategy for agitating observant Democrats? The president is using his record of accomplishments and his connections with high-profile former Democrats, such as Steve Harvey, Kanye West, Kim Kardashian, Dennis Rodman, and YouTube vloggers Diamond and Silk, to get the attention of the black electorate and raise the ire of onlookers.

Symbolism and actions matter. As part of his outreach to black voters, Trump has pardoned legendary black boxer Jack Johnson, who was convicted in 1913 for transporting a white woman across state lines for immoral purposes. He also commuted the sentence of Alice Marie Johnson, a former drug dealer who was given a life sentence for a nonviolent crime for which she had already served 22 years.

In both cases, it was Trump, and not President Barack Obama, who took actions to rectify those unjust situations. Some blacks seem to be making comparisons of responsiveness that favor Trump.

Blacks may be growing weary of the broken promises of the Democratic Party. Subtle shifts in party identification among blacks became noticeable during President Obama’s second term. A March 2018 Pew Research Center Poll reported that while acknowledging that blacks remain solidly Democrat, their party backing as measured by affiliation dropped from three-quarters to two-thirds support during the second half of the Obama administration.

The decline in party affiliation could reflect disappointment in the performance of the Democratic Party and its first elected black president. In 2008, 95 percent of blacks enthusiastically supported then-Sen. Obama, helping him to achieve a historic first. Blacks, however, were the hardest hit by the recession and other factors that affected the economy. By 2014, the black poverty rate had risen from 25.8 percent in 2009 to 27.2 percent, net worth among blacks dropped 13.5 percent, home ownership declined by 6 percent, and black youth unemployment stood at 21.4 percent.

In 2016, 8 percent of blacks voted for Trump. By Aug. 16, 2018, a Rasmussen poll reported Trump had an approval rate among blacks of 36 percent, despite allegations of racism that have plagued him for decades; an NAACP poll released on Aug. 7 put the president’s approval rating at 21 percent.

Rasmussen points out that no Republican presidential candidate has polled that well among black voters since 1996, when candidate Bob Dole garnered 12 percent of their vote. Under Trump, family incomes have risen, black unemployment has dropped, and more Americans are working again. A rising tide does lift all boats.

Greater prosperity or the perception of such benefits the president. Other factors possibly influencing black voters to give Republican candidates a chance include increased information about the histories of the two major parties. Conservatives such as Dinesh D’Souza, who has made two popular documentaries, are reaching the public with rarely discussed facts about the Democratic Party’s racial history.

In addition, Prager University videos, including four of mine, reach millions of Americans with five-minute lectures about a variety of topics, including the histories of the two political parties. Lastly, let’s not discount the potential effects of Brandon Straka’s Walk Away movement. Straka, a former Democrat (who happens to be gay), is urging other Democrats to follow his lead. While some blacks might respond to Straka’s call, walking away from Democrats doesn’t mean an embrace of Republicans.

We will have to wait and see what happens during the midterm elections. But one thing is certain. Presidents Obama and Trump have forever changed American politics. By doing so, they have opened new possibilities for all Americans.

Carol M. Swain is a former professor of political science and law at Vanderbilt University. You can find her on Twitter @carolmswain or visit her website, CarolMSwain.com

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.