Black voters' support for Biden has cooled, poll finds
The Washington Post June 4, 2022
As far as Stacy Mumford is concerned, Joe Biden fulfilled the campaign promise that mattered most to her the instant he was inaugurated: simply not being named "Donald Trump." But in the 18 months since then, she hasn't seen Biden deliver on the myriad promises she believes he made to her and other Black voters.
There has been little movement on police reform or voting rights protections. Gas prices in her town of Thomasville, Ga., near the Florida border, approached $4 a gallon this week. Her most recent raise was gobbled up by the rising price of everything, including food and rent. And she worries about the students at the school where she works - because, she says, gun control is another thing Biden has not successfully delivered.
Mumford believes the president is well-intentioned and that his campaign promises were made in good faith. But she'd hoped that a politician who spent 36 years as a senator and eight as vice president "would have more of a deft hand."
"He's not really holding up to his end of the bargain," said Mumford, 49, a school nutritionist. "Some things he's promised. Some things he's done. But we are still struggling as a whole. We are all still struggling."
Like Mumford, roughly 9 in 10 Black voters supported Biden in the 2020 election, but a Washington Post-Ipsos poll of more than 1,200 Black Americans this spring finds what appears to be diminishing support: 7 in 10 approve of President Biden's job performance, and fewer than one quarter "strongly approve." A 60% majority of Black Americans say Biden is keeping most of his major campaign promises, but 37% say he is not.
Writ large, the poll shows much stronger support for Biden in the Black community than among most others groups. But that support is growing less intense among this loyal constituency heading into the midterm elections, and younger Black Americans are significantly less enthusiastic about the president than older ones.
Black registered voters still overwhelmingly support Democratic candidates in the midterms, according to the poll, but they are less likely to say the election matters to them than they did before the Biden-Trump contest, and fewer say they are certain to vote.
Many also expressed relatively little faith in the institution of voting itself: Black Americans are less confident that all eligible citizens will have a fair opportunity to vote than White or Hispanic Americans who were asked the same question.
Black voters are particularly important to the president and the political party he leads. Voters like Mumford helped propel Biden to an 11,779-vote victory in Georgia, the first time a Democratic presidential candidate prevailed in the state since 1992. And a month after Biden won the White House, two Democrats narrowly won Georgia's Senate seats, handing the party what many Black voters hoped would be a governing majority large enough to enact sweeping changes.
But those changes have been slow in coming, particularly on issues that matter to Black Americans. That's in part because the Senate is split 50-50 between the parties (with Vice President Kamala Harris breaking ties), and passage of most bills through the chamber requires 60 votes.
Efforts to reform police - demands heard nationwide after the murder of George Floyd - stalled in Congress and ended with an executive order that Biden acknowledged did not go as far as he'd hoped even as he signed it. Rising inflation has eaten away at people's incomes and threatens Biden's political prospects. The federal government has done little to bolster voting protections, despite a raft of state legislation that activists say puts obstacles between Black people and voting booths.
Asked about the failure of a Democratic voting right effort in the Senate, 46% of Black Americans say they are disappointed and another 15% say they are angry. But among those with negative reactions, 84% blame Biden "a little" or "not at all."
While several of the people polled who were later contacted by The Post expressed frustration at the slow or nonexistent progress, many stressed that the blame did not lie solely with the president.
Overall, Biden's 70% job approval rating among Black Americans remains much higher than among the public overall. In an April Post-ABC poll, 42% of all Americans approved of Biden while 52% disapproved.
About two-thirds of Black Americans (66%) say that Biden is sympathetic to the problems of Black people in this country while 32% say he is not. That's a decrease from 74% who said Biden was sympathetic in 2020, but still contrasts sharply with how Black Americans see the Republican Party. Three-quarters of Black Americans say the Republican Party is racist against Black Americans; a quarter say the same about the Democratic Party.
Republican leaders take issue with the notion that their party is racist and argue that their policies, from low taxes to abortion, are better for the Black community.
"There are voices that say if you're a poor, Black, single mother like mine, abortion is your best option," Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., the lone Black Republican in the Senate, tweeted last month. "They must not know that the story of African Americans is one of victory, overcoming odds, & triumph in the face of tragedy."
But there is little doubt that most Black Americans support Democrats, even in the face of mounting frustrations. Rikki Johnson, a retired police officer from Fredericksburg, Va., said he agrees with many of Biden's policy positions but believes the president has been outmaneuvered by a Republican Party set on obstruction and let down by a Democratic Party stymied by disunity.
"The Republicans are not going to let (Biden) be successful because it terribly diminishes their chances for 2024," said Johnson, 60. But he said Biden has also similarly hobbled by his own party and "couldn't pull the party together to have one thought. If you think about how the Republican Party always attacks, they attack together. The Democratic Party doesn't attack like a fist, they attack like five fingers. They go in different directions."
Deanna Whitlow, a 20-year-old college student in Chicago, said she started out with low expectations for Biden, since he followed "someone as extreme as Trump."
"I honestly feel like I can't be too picky," said Whitlow, adding that she approved of Biden's efforts to expand voting rights and advance climate issues, but believed not enough progress had been made on police reform and abortion rights. She described herself as a Democrat, but said Biden wasn't her first choice for president.
"I think that it's good that he's tried, but with Congress working against him, I'm not surprised [that] nothing grand has happened," Whitlow said.
But many Black Americans do not let Biden entirely off the hook. They say he has not done enough, for example, to push through changes to a criminal justice system that they widely condemn as slanted against minorities.
Just over 1 in 5 Black Americans say Biden has done "a great deal" or "a good amount" to reduce discrimination in the criminal justice system, while 76% say he has done "little" or "nothing."
Biden has acted unilaterally in some areas to implement police reform. His Justice Department implemented a ban on chokeholds and carotid restraints for federal officers, began requiring agents to wear body cameras, and severely limited the use of "no-knock warrants" like the one that factored into the 2020 killing of Louisville resident Breonna Taylor. But because they are presidential orders and not laws, those changes affect only federal officers and agents, not the thousands of local and state police departments across the country.
Biden also recently pardoned three people and commuted the sentences of 75 nonviolent drug offenders, amid calls for leniency in a system that disproportionately affects people of color.
Age continues to be a dividing line in Black people's opinions of Biden, continuing a pattern that was first evident in the 2020 presidential primaries. Biden's approval rating peaks at 86% among Black Americans ages 65 and older, but drops to 74% among those ages 40-64 and to 60% among those ages 18-39. Biden's approval rating is also much higher among Black registered voters than among those who are not registered to vote, 86% vs. 40%.
While Biden is not on the ballot, Black voters' opinions of him mirror their opinions of other Democrats who are up for election. Asked who they support in congressional elections, 88% of Black registered voters say they would support the Democratic candidate in their district, similar to Biden's share of the Black vote in 2020.
But just about half of Black voters, 49%, say the outcome of this November's election matters "a great deal" to them, down from 77% who said the same thing about the presidential election in June 2020. Similarly, the share of Black voters who say they are "absolutely certain to vote" has dropped from 85% in 2020 to 62% this year, a 23-point drop that is larger than the 12-point drop among White voters.
Just about half of Black Americans (49%) say the things that Biden is doing as president are either "somewhat" or "very" good for African Americans, while 12% say what he's doing is somewhat or very bad and 37% say the things he is doing are neither good nor bad.
Biden has said he is running for reelection, and as the 2024 Democratic primary approaches, 43% of Black Democrats say they would prefer Biden to have the nomination, followed by Harris at 29%. Seven percent picked Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg. Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., had 2% of respondents volunteer his name, and former first lady Michelle Obama had 1%.
Mumford, the school nutritionist from Thomasville, said she is certain to vote in the midterms and in the 2024 presidential election. She has always voted, she said, and considers it her duty as a citizen.
She said she does not align herself with either party, but routinely leaned Democratic in the years of Trump. Now that Trump is gone, she would like to see Democrats govern with the same determination - even ruthlessness - as Republicans did under Trump.
"Trump, to his credit, he kept some of his word," she said. "I didn't agree with a lot of it. And it was his racism that I didn't like. And throwing a temper tantrum in the White House. But he did get results." (Trump's defenders say his unorthodox positions and unconventional leadership style are part of what many Americans appreciate about him.)
The Post-Ipsos poll was conducted through the Ipsos KnowledgePanel from April 21 through May 2 among a random national sample of 1,248 non-Hispanic Black adults with a partially overlapping sample of 977 U.S. adults. Results among Black Americans and Americans overall have a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.