The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Black Americans say racism, policing top issues for November, favor Biden by huge margin, Post-Ipsos poll finds

U.S. Park Police are seen in Lafayette Square as demonstrators gather outside a fence near the White House on June 2. (Matt McClain/The Washington Post)

Black Americans say racism and police conduct are the most important issues in their choice of candidates for president, are sharply critical of President Trump on both matters and see increasingly high stakes in the outcome of November’s election, a Washington Post-Ipsos poll finds.

Former vice president Joe Biden currently leads Trump by a not-unexpectedly lopsided margin among black registered voters, 92 percent to 5 percent. His supporters are about evenly split on whether they are casting an affirmative or negative vote, with roughly half saying they mainly “support Biden” and the other half saying they mainly “oppose Trump.”

Despite the overwhelming support he enjoys, Biden faces clear challenges in mobilizing younger black adults. This is a group that strongly disapproves of Trump but is also notably less enthusiastic about voting at all and is generally more critical of Biden than are older black adults. While 87 percent of black seniors say Biden is sympathetic to the problems of black people in America, that drops to 66 percent among those under age 40.

Black Americans are evenly divided on the question of whether Biden, who has pledged to pick a woman as his running mate, should take an extra step and select a black woman. The poll finds that 50 percent say it is very or fairly important to them that he do so, while 49 percent say it is not. The choice of a black female running mate matters more to black women under age 40 than to those 40 and older.

“Joe Biden is cool, but it would be great to have someone who can counter his perspectives on a lot of things,” said Willa Ivory, a 31-year-old social worker who lives in New York City and who mentioned former Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams as a possibility.

“In order for Biden to get the black vote, he needs to pick somebody black because I think a lot of people are going to sit the election out if they don’t like the vice president,” said C. Northern, a 39-year-old training analyst in Sacramento, who spoke on the condition that her first name not be used.

The Fix’s Eugene Scott breaks down how presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden has reacted to the death of George Floyd. (Video: The Washington Post)

The Post-Ipsos poll finds strong interest in the election among black adults overall, with nearly 3 in 4 saying they are “absolutely certain to vote.” That is on par with voting interest among whites and ahead of Hispanics. Separately, 71 percent of black Americans say the outcome of the balloting matters “a great deal” to them, up sharply from 60 percent who said this in January in a previous Post-Ipsos poll.

Enthusiasm to vote in November is less strong among black adults under age 40. Among this group, 61 percent say they are certain to vote, while 59 percent say the election result matters “a great deal.”

In addition to navigating changes in voting availability during the coronavirus pandemic, many younger adults face another logistical challenge: More than 1 in 5 black adults under age 40 say they are not registered to vote at their current address. In contrast, more than 9 in 10 black seniors are registered to vote where they live.

Marino Swanson said he is “not very certain I’ll be voting in November.” The 24-year-old from Pittsburgh, who works in juvenile probation, said he is not registered to vote and did not cast a ballot in 2016. He said he often feels elections are a choice of “the lesser of two evils.”

Swanson said “it would be nice” for Biden to choose a black woman as his running mate because it would show “that we’re making steps.” But he emphasized that having the right qualifications was most important.

The qualifications of Biden’s vice-presidential choice also matter more than color or even gender to Terrence Jones, 75, a retiree from Fairburn, Ga. “It doesn’t matter to me, just as long as they’re qualified,” he said. “I wish there were a way he could pick Barack Obama to be his vice president — just to return the favor.”

Last month’s killing of George Floyd by police in Minneapolis has highlighted anew issues of policing in black communities. The poll finds that, across all age groups, at least 9 in 10 black Americans say both racism and police treatment of black Americans will be important in their presidential vote. Roughly 7 in 10 of black adults say each of those issues is “one of the most important.”

Policing and racism eclipse other issues of note among black Americans as they look to the election. For example, 53 percent say health care is one of the most important issues in their vote, followed by 49 percent who say this about the coronavirus outbreak and 48 percent for the economy. Immigration ranks last, with 22 percent saying it is one of the most important issues.

The issues of racism and police treatment are significantly less important in the vote choice of white Americans, who were also surveyed as part of this project. Some 22 percent of white adults cite racism as one of the most important issues in their vote in November, while 21 percent name police treatment of black Americans.

The president’s image among black Americans remains deeply negative, as does his reputation on issues of race and discrimination. The Post-Ipsos poll finds 9 percent of black adults approve of the way Trump is handling his job overall, while 88 percent disapprove, including 76 percent who disapprove “strongly.” Those results have shifted little since the comparable poll in January.

A similar 90 percent disapprove of Trump’s response to Floyd’s killing while in the custody of Minnesota police, while 76 percent disapprove of his handling of the protests that followed.

Trump claimed earlier this month that his administration “has done more for the black community than any president since Abraham Lincoln,” citing his signing of a criminal justice reform law passed by Congress, low black unemployment before the coronavirus shutdowns and increased funding for historically black colleges and universities.

Black Americans hold a starkly different view: 86 percent say Trump has done “nothing” to reduce discrimination against black Americans in the criminal justice system, while 59 percent say former president Obama did “a great deal” or “a good amount” to reduce discrimination as president.

On the economy, the Post-Ipsos poll in January found few black adults credited Trump for the low unemployment rate, and in the latest survey, 86 percent of black Americans say they trust Biden more to handle the economy, while 9 percent trust Trump more.

On a personal level, 7 percent of black adults feel Trump is sympathetic to the problems of black people in the United States, while 90 percent say he is not. At the same time, 87 percent say they believe Trump is “biased against black people.”

“He’s completely oblivious of the black race,” said Maria Alleyne, a pediatric nurse in Burtonsville, Md., who immigrated from Grenada in 1986. Alleyne added that Trump “sides with the people who do these heinous crimes. His heart is a heart of stone, not of flesh.”

Biden has a far more positive image among black Americans on racial issues, though a sizable minority percentage are skeptical. A 74 percent majority feel Biden is sympathetic to the problems of black people, while 23 percent say he is not. Among black Americans under age 40, that figure rises to 32 percent.

Overall, 17 percent of black adults say Biden is biased against black people, but there are notable differences among age groups. Among those over age 65, 8 percent say he is biased, compared with 14 percent among those 40 to 64 and 24 percent of those ages 18 to 39.

Asked how much Biden would do to reduce discrimination against black Americans in the criminal justice system, 65 percent say he would do “a great deal” or “some,” while 33 percent think he would do little or nothing.

Young black men are particularly critical, with 51 percent saying Biden would do little or nothing to reduce discrimination, compared with 38 percent among young black women. Among seniors overall, 17 percent share that view.

The Post-Ipsos poll finds less of a generational divide when black registered voters are asked whom they would vote for if the election were held today: 90 percent under age 40 support Biden, as do 92 percent of those ages 40 to 64 and 92 percent of those 65 and older.

Among younger black Americans, there is a small gender gap. Biden is supported by 81 percent of black men ages 18 to 39, but among black women in the same age group, his support rises to 94 percent.

Biden staked much of his campaign for the Democratic nomination on his ability to appeal to black voters, and their overwhelming support in the South Carolina primary resuscitated his then-faltering candidacy. In May, Biden faced blowback for suggesting African Americans who are considering voting for Trump “ain’t black.” He later admitted the comment was “much too cavalier,” and said he did not take the black vote for granted.

The 2016 election underscored how strong black support in primaries, where turnout is relatively low, may not translate to high turnout in a general election. Former secretary of state Hillary Clinton won an even larger share of the black vote in her 2016 nomination contest than Biden did this year, yet black turnout in the general election fell sharply from 67 percent of eligible voters in 2012 to 60 percent in 2016, while white and Hispanic turnout grew over the same period.

The Washington Post-Ipsos poll was conducted June 9-14 through Ipsos’s KnowledgePanel, a large online survey panel recruited through random sampling of U.S. households. Results among the sample of 1,153 non-Hispanic black adults including 989 black registered voters, both with a margin of sampling error of plus or minus four percentage points.

Vanessa Williams and Cleve R. Wootson Jr. contributed to this report.