No, Trump is talking about Lincoln a lot for another reason: He’s telling anyone who will listen that no American president has done more for black Americans than himself, with Lincoln being the possible exception.
This claim doesn’t withstand the slightest scrutiny, of course. Historians who spoke with The Washington Post identified numerous presidents who had done more for black Americans than Trump. Trump’s insistence that what he has done — reforming criminal sentencing, funding historically black colleges — represents the apex of achievement for a president is hard to square with things like the Civil Rights Act. Even if you take at face value his presentations of what those accomplishments mean, which you shouldn’t.
But Trump has hammered on this point, over and over. His campaign has clearly invested in the idea that he can perhaps woo black voters or, at least, get them not to bother going to vote for former vice president Joe Biden in November. After all, “I’ve done more for the black community in four years than Joe Biden has done in 47 years,” the president said at his rally in Tulsa last weekend. This, too, is dubious.
This focus on black voters has been a repeated theme in his tweets and in his campaign’s outreach as well. It also hasn’t made any dent in his level of support among black Americans.
I can say this with certainty because The Washington Post, in partnership with the polling firm Ipsos, polled black Americans in January and this month, asking questions evaluating views of the country and of the president. Between those two polls, despite the barrage of rhetoric from Trump in the interim, views about the president haven’t changed significantly at all.
In January, 7 percent of black Americans viewed Trump with approval. Three-quarters viewed him with strong disapproval. This month, 9 percent approve of Trump and three-quarters view him with strong disapproval.
In January, 83 percent of black Americans told us that they viewed Trump as racist. This month, we asked a slightly different question: Is Trump biased against black people? Eighty-seven percent of respondents said he is.
There’s certainly an argument to be made that Trump’s repeated mentions of what he has done for black Americans is meant not to convince them to vote for him but to convince white voters more broadly that he isn’t racist or biased. If that’s the case, it’s an effort that almost has to be going better than any effort to earn more black votes.
At the time of that January poll, Biden wasn’t yet his party’s presumptive nominee. He was one of more than a dozen Democrats vying for that role, which he secured in early March. Our January poll asked about a theoretical contest between him and Trump, in which Biden prevailed by a wide margin among black registered voters — 78 points. Only 4 percent picked Trump, though 6 percent said they wouldn’t cast a vote at all.
The June poll asked the question again, without explicit options for not voting or preference for another candidate — both of which were included in January given the ongoing primary. (Five percent said they would vote for another candidate at that point.) Now, Biden leads by 87 points. Trump still gets only 5 percent of the vote, an insignificant difference from January.
How many black Americans don’t plan on voting? We asked about that, too. In January, 8 in 10 said they were probably going to vote or were certain to vote. In June, the figure was essentially unchanged.
The extent to which Trump has failed to convince black Americans of the success of his presidency can be summed up in two poll questions, one from each of our two polls this year. The central argument he has made to black voters for giving him a second term is that he will steward robust economic growth, an argument that got kneecapped more than a little by the coronavirus pandemic.
In January, we asked respondents how much credit Trump deserved for the then-low unemployment in the black community. About three-quarters said Trump deserved only some or hardly any credit for the unemployment rate.
This month, we asked a more specific question: Who did respondents think would do a better job on the economy? Despite Trump’s focus on the issue, black voters said they trusted Biden more than Trump on the economy by an 11-to-1 margin. Eighty-six percent of respondents said the economy would be a very important issue in their vote for president. Grim numbers for a president who has repeatedly focused on the economy as a sales pitch.
Recent polling suggests at least one significant way in which Trump may not match Lincoln: Lincoln won two terms in office.