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The problem with Trump’s claim about Kanye West and rising support among African Americans

President Trump thanked Kanye West for his endorsement and claimed it caused his support to rise among African Americans. (Video: The Washington Post, Photo: LUCAS JACKSON/The Washington Post)

President Trump said in his speech to the National Rifle Association on Friday that his support among black Americans has increased since hip-hop artist Kanye West expressed his support for him. The problem is, there's no reliable data to support that claim.

“Kanye West must have some power because you probably saw I doubled my African American poll numbers,” Trump said. “We went from 11 to 22 in one week. Thank you, Kanye. Thank you. When I saw the number, I said, 'That must be a mistake. How can that have happened?' Even the pollsters thought that must be a mistake.

“Now we've come a long way. You remember I'd come into big rooms, big audiences, and I'd say, 'What do you have to lose?' Because the Democrats have always had their votes. Horrible on crime, horrible on education, horrible on everything. I'd say 'What do you have to lose?' And they voted for me. And we won, but now the numbers are much higher than they ever were before with African Americans, and we're happy.”

Trump's getting quite a bit mixed up here. Let's review.

West posted several pro-Trump tweets on April 25.

In one tweet, West called the president “my brother”:

“You don't have to agree with trump but the mob can't make me not love him. We are both dragon energy. He is my brother. I love everyone. I don't agree with everything anyone does. That's what makes us individuals. And we have the right to independent thought.”

A few days later, on April 29, a Reuters/Ipsos poll reported that Trump's approval with black men — not black Americans, as Trump claimed — was 22 percent. His approval with black men a week before was 11 percent with this poll, which uses a non-probability online sample, a methodology that a 2014 Pew Research study found doesn't necessarily accurately represent African Americans.

It's quite early to determine how differently black Americans view Trump after West's tweets. Polls released in the coming weeks will do a better job of showing whether black Americans are having a change of heart about Trump.

Other polls released this week show no significant change in support for Trump among black voters after West donned a “Make America Great Again” hat.

The Pew Research Center poll released Thursday reported that only 13 percent of African Americans approve of Trump. In January, that number was 14 percent.

Gallup has Trump's approval rating at 13 percent with black Americans this week, up from 11 percent in February.

But perhaps the most intriguing claim by Trump is attributing whatever change he saw in support from African American men in that one poll to West.

West is an influential artist, but there is no proof that black men's views of Trump are shaped significantly — or at all — by the rapper. If anything, support for West may have declined after he blamed enslaved black people for their enslavement,  implied that African Americans who vote Democrat are not “free thinkers” and endorsed views expressed by Candace Owens, a black conservative activist who says liberal blacks are on “the Democratic plantation.”

Ted Johnson, senior fellow at the Brennan Center for Justice, told The Washington Post's Vanessa Williams that Trump's latching on to West or any other black celebrity “is not an engagement strategy” that will win over black voters for the Republican Party.

What would it take?

“To not be so ridiculous on civil rights,” he said. “Then they would have an audience in black America when they start talking about fiscal conservatism or regulatory reform or tax reform.”

Following West's support for the president, Trump surrogate Darrell Scott is proposing a White House summit on race issues featuring entertainers and artists. That may be time well spent for those interested in furthering the conversation, but looking to West to be the cornerstone of Trump's black voter outreach is not likely to lead to any significant changes for the president or his party as a whole.