The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion Poll shows a more nuanced view of the black vote — if you look for it

Then-South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg, left, speaks as former vice president Joe Biden looks on during the Democratic primary debate in Miami on June 27, 2019. (Wilfredo Lee/AP)

A new poll of African American voters from The Post and Ipsos cemented what we already know: They want President Trump out of office and they think former vice president Joe Biden is the person to do it. But the survey not only gives us new information on their thinking but also challenges some tired conventional wisdom.

I’m going to scream if I have to read one more story that suggests or flat-out states that the reason Pete Buttigieg, the former mayor of South Bend, Ind., is not gaining support among black voters is because he’s gay. As if African Americans are uniquely riven with the disease of homophobia, which colors their entire view of the world. If you believe that or continue to write that, might I suggest you get black friends or read the polls with more nuance. In fact, if you’re a reporter or pollster, ask yourself why African Americans are asked their position on LGBT issues in ways that are rarely asked of white voters. By doing so, you are perpetuating the lie that blacks are more homophobic than anyone else.

Now that I’ve gotten that off my chest — again — let’s dig into the Post-Ipsos poll numbers to see what’s really going on.

When asked if they were “enthusiastic about” or “comfortable with supporting a gay man,” 57 percent of African Americans agreed. That’s 16 percentage points higher than the net result (41 percent) of those who said they “have some reservations about supporting” (20 percent) and are “very uncomfortable with supporting” a gay man (21 percent).

The ugly lie about black voters and Mayor Pete

Here's where the nuance comes in. According to the African Americans surveyed, they would be “enthusiastic about” and “comfortable with” voting for a white man (76 percent) or white woman (76 percent) who was younger than 40 years old (63 percent) and a gay man (57 percent). Buttigieg is a 37-year-old white gay man. In theory, he should be golden. In reality, black voters just aren't into him.

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Of the eight Democrats who were matched up against Trump, Buttigieg came in last with 57 percent support. He had the second-highest net unfavorable rating (18 percent). He had the third-highest number (15 percent) of respondents who said they would not support him if he were the nominee. Buttigieg’s problems with African Americans probably have more to do with ongoing and serious questions about his stewardship of the South Bend police department and his handling of a police shooting last June than anything in his personal background.

But there is another problem Buttigieg has that he shares with other candidates. A lot of people don’t know who they are.

Buttigieg, who has 2 percent support, had 34 percent respond “never heard of” when asked if they had a favorable or unfavorable view of him. For Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.), one of two African Americans still in the race, it was 25 percent. Mike Bloomberg, the billionaire former mayor of New York who ties Booker with 4 percent support, came in next at 20 percent “never heard of.” At 38 percent, Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), who has less than 0.5 percent support, had the most who had “never heard of” her. For all of them, this means they have room to grow, to make their case. But for some of them, the hill to climb will be steep.

Bloomberg, is hobbled by being a billionaire. A net 53 percent said they would “have some reservations about supporting” (38 percent) or are “very uncomfortable with supporting” (15 percent) a billionaire. That’s the highest for all the “types of people” the surveyed were asked about. The second-highest is “over 70 years old” (45 percent). Bloomberg is 77 years old.

Bloomberg also has the highest net unfavorable rating (23 percent). Part of that has to do with his wealth. Another part of it no doubt is related to his history with stop-and-frisk and his questionable position on the exonerated Central Park Five. That he is 4 percent in this poll, however, shows the power of his multimillion-dollar ad campaign and his years of philanthropy on climate, gun control and public health.

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Also, it has not been lost on me the number of African American mayors who have endorsed the former mayor. Former Philadelphia mayor Michael Nutter is his national political chairman. Steven Benjamin (D-Columbia, S.C.), Michael Tubbs (D-Stockton, Calif.) and Hardie Davis (D-Augusta, Ga.) are also on Team Bloomberg.

Who knows whether that kind of black support will translate into votes at the ballot box? But what I do know is this: Evicting Trump from the Oval Office is priority No. 1 for African Americans, as it is for Democrats overall. And none of the other candidates will snag a majority of the black vote as long as Joe Biden is in the race.

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