Black Voters Made the Difference
Findings highlight how Black people voted, why they voted and how they are at the front of a powerful political coalition.
By Maria Morales
A coalition led by people of color is now the dominant political reality in the United States.
This is the conclusion of a 2020 American Election Eve poll and results from the NAACP’s nationwide efforts to get out the Black vote.
“We celebrate the historic outcome as the result of the progressive bloc that we know as the African American vote,” said NAACP President and CEO Derrick Johnson.
Nearly nine out of 10 African Americans supported Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden and his selection of Sen. Kamala Harris of California as his running mate for vice president. The strong support of Biden among Black voters in the 2020 election was the result of a strategic consolidation of the Black voting bloc, according to findings from the 2020 American Election Eve Poll, completed by the African American Research Collaborative (AARC).
“In light of how this election turned out, it is clear that Black voters are the backbone of Biden’s coalition,” said Henry Fernandez, principal at AARC. “Without record Black turnout and support for Joe Biden and Kamala Harris, this race would’ve been over days ago.”
The AARC, at the behest of the NAACP, the Vera Institute of Justice, and several minority political action groups, conducted a massive poll that oversampled people of color in critical battleground states who had already voted or were likely to vote, as well as large samples of white voters.
Pollsters surveyed voters by phone and online in several languages from October 23 through November 2, which provided up-to-the-minute information about what voters were thinking going into Election Day.
The 2020 American Election Eve Poll provides an accurate alternative to exit polls when it comes to the voting participation of people of color, Fernandez said.
The poll of 15,200 voters included 4,100 African American respondents from 12 states including the key battleground states of Florida, Georgia, Ohio, Michigan, North Carolina, Nevada, Pennsylvania, Texas, and Wisconsin, as well as a national sample, with a margin of error of +/- 0.8 percent.
African Americans overwhelmingly supported the Biden-Harris ticket in Michigan, where Black people represent 14 percent of the vote; in Georgia, where Blacks are 32 percent of the vote; and in North Carolina, where Black people represent 22 percent of the vote.
Even in Pennsylvania, which clinched the win for Joe Biden, Black people are only between 10 and 11 percent of the vote. Yet, in none of these states did Biden receive under 90 percent Black support, while nationally, the average among whites was 41 percent.
Pollsters said the turnout proves that people of color, and Black Americans in particular, are a critical voting bloc that is often overlooked, including young voters of color. More than eight out of 10 young Black Americans voted for Biden. In contrast, whites under age 40 voted for Trump at 55 percent—two points higher than whites older than 60, which shows that young white voters are not particularly more progressive than older white voters.
In addition to the presidential election, the poll showed the most important concerns for African Americans were racial justice and the coronavirus pandemic. Voters also expressed attitudes towards Trump and Trumpism, dismay about pandemic politics, and their support for a progressive agenda.
Young black voters polled also showed strong support for better health coverage, economic opportunity and comprehensive criminal justice reform.
The poll also revealed that more than half of African American voters said the coronavirus pandemic is the most important issue in their community that politicians should address, followed by discrimination and racial justice. Opinion polling has consistently shown that mitigating the damage wrought by COVID-19 was the major issue of the 2020 election, regardless of race, Fernandez said. But Black Americans continue to be disproportionately harmed by the pandemic, which influenced how and why they voted.
Black voters also want policy change and reform, including banning chokeholds and strangleholds, shifting funds from policing to community and family support, and reducing immigrant detention. Each issued scored at 90 percent or higher among Black voters, including immigration reform, which was a close tie to Latino voters.
“Black voters are overwhelmingly concerned about systemic racism, especially as it relates to the criminal legal system,” said Nick Turner, president of Vera. “Criminal justice reform should be a priority for the [incoming] president and Congress.”
In Georgia, where the Black turnout was substantial, the NAACP continues to have a robust, coordinated effort on the ground. The NAACP is currently working with its data science partner, GSSA, to assess possible methodologies for voter engagement in preparation for the January 5th runoff election between the Rev. Raphael Warnock, a Democrat, and Republican incumbent Sen. Kelly Loeffler, a white woman. At stake is a senate seat that has not been won by a Democrat since 2000.
For example, the NAACP Georgia State Conference was the only organization that had volunteers in every county during the 2020 election cycle. The civil rights group pushed out 3,200 radio ads and 17.2 million digital impressions, on top of the many volunteers who signed up to do outreach to registered voters who had some voting activity in the past but were doubtful about participate in the November 3rd election.
The NAACP’s “Black Voices Change Lives” campaign targeted infrequent Black voters. The civil rights organization spent $15 million in outreach targeting Black communities in Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Ohio, Texas, Alabama, Virginia, Florida, and Nevada. It partnered with local organizations to mobilize 200,000 high-propensity voters to do voter outreach. The volunteers made more than 675,000 phone calls, sent 16.5 million text messages, distributed over 400,000 pieces of voter education literature and sent over 400,000 emails. The campaign also sent 4.5 million pieces of mail, ran 27,000 ads, and received more than 121 million social media impressions.
Johnson said the NAACP’s unique, data-driven approach targeting infrequent African American voters in places like Milwaukee, Wisconsin; Flint, Michigan; Pittsburgh and Philadelphia, Pennsylania; Savannah, Georgia; and the Detroit and Atlanta metro areas, made the difference in this election.
“The NAACP has spent the past 100 years mobilizing Black people across the country to get out
the vote,” said Johnson. “Black people have always led the charge to make this country live up to its ideals of fairness and equality.”
For more information about the 2020 American Election Eve Poll, visit electioneve2020.com. The website includes statistical breakouts by state, race, ethnicity, and gender within race and ethnicity.
For more information about the “Black Voices Change Lives” voter campaign, visit blackvoiceschangelives.org.