Remember when presidential candidate Donald Trump told a mostly white rally crowd in 2016 in Michigan that “at the end of four years, I guarantee you that I will get over 95% of the African-American vote”?

How’s that working out? Alas, he has a lot of ground to make up.

Yet, he hardly could have sounded more determined at the November “Black Voices for Trump” rally he convened in Atlanta. “We’re going to campaign for every last African-American vote in 2020.”



Right. The man is nothing if not a salesman. His job-approval ratings among black Americans have bobbed up and down during his term but not far from the 8% of black votes he received four years ago.

A notable exception occurred in early August when Rasmussen reported a surge to 27% in the president’s black voter approval; however, it returned the following week to its usual mid-20% range in a poll that tends to report higher ratings for Trump than other pollsters do.

A shortfall in enthusiasm hurt Hillary Clinton, particularly among black voters, the most loyal constituency in Democratic ranks since the mid-1960s. Many people — including me — blamed a 7% drop in black voter turnout for Clinton’s loss.

But now the black apathy that bedeviled Clinton’s race appears to have faded. African-American voters are more interested in voting in this year’s presidential election than they were in 2016, according to a national poll and focus groups conducted by Third Way, a self-described moderate center-left research organization, and the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, a 50-year-old research center on black community issues.

The survey found that 45% said they were more motivated to vote in 2020 than in 2016, and 40% said they were just as motivated as last time. A resounding 76% were “almost certain” to show up at the polls, the survey’s highest level of intensity.

The rise in motivation showed itself most noticeably in expressions of opposition to President Trump. Offered a half-dozen reasons to vote, the biggest group — 40% — chose the one that mentioned the president by name: “Donald Trump has been a disaster for our country, and we need to do everything we can to vote him out.”

The second highest choice: 21% said their top reason to vote was that “Voting is the best way to make my voice heard in our government.”

So far, Democrats appear to be determined to avoid taking any constituency for granted this time, particularly the 6 million who voted for Trump in 2016 after voting for Obama four years earlier, or the 4.4 million Obama voters who didn’t vote in 2016.

At present, Trump has good reason to make the economy a centerpiece of his reelection campaign, but the Third Way/Joint Center study sees storm clouds on the horizon: Only 22% of black Americans told researchers that their finances have improved, while 50% said they’ve stayed the same and 27% said they’re worse.

Sixty-two percent of black voters said Democrats understand their lives, while only 13% said the same of Trump and the Republicans. Eighty-six percent of black Americans said the cost of living is going up faster than their wages are.

And a majority of black voters said racial relations have gotten worse under Trump, 55% said they face more racism in their daily lives than they used to, and 80% said Trump’s election has made people who hold racist views more likely to express them in public.

Also, among those who are employed, 1 in 5 black Americans surveyed said they are working more than one job to make ends meet.

It is on bread-and-butter issues such as housing and health care, a strong issue for Democrats in the midterms, that black voters expressed the most dissatisfaction. So far, the president has done more to try to end Obamacare, formally the Affordable Care Act, than offer ideas for how to replace it.

That’s another reason why I don’t expect him to get anywhere near that 95% of black support that he promised, although I’d like to see him try.

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Email Clarence Page

at cpage@chicagotribune.com.

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