The 2020 elections will forever be marked by the coronavirus, but how the pandemic will affect voter turnout—and equally as important, voter mindsets—remains to be seen. A new poll from the political action committee BlackPAC, however, provides some important insight into the pandemic’s impact on black voters in crucial swing states.
Among the key takeaways: black voters are feeling the disproportionate impact the virus has had on their communities, and it appears to be further fueling a voting bloc that was already very activated to turn out against Donald Trump.
“‘Enthusiasm’ is a hard word to use because I think people are just mad,” Adrianne Shropshire, executive director of BlackPAC, told The Root. “There’s an urgency with which they understand the need to participate.”
Taken during the first five days in April, BlackPAC, a black-led organization that mobilizes voters around racial, economic, and justice issues, surveyed 800 black registered voters in eight battleground states: Florida, Georgia, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin. The poll found 75 percent of black voters reported that they’ve been directly impacted by the coronavirus. They also shared widespread disapproval of how Trump and his administration have handled the crisis.
Nearly 60 percent of the respondents said they are very concerned that they or someone in their family will become infected with COVID-19. The economic downturn that has come as a result of the virus is also significant for black voters in these battleground states: 46 percent of those polled said they have either lost a job or work hours as a result of the virus. In the last month, the virus has forced public officials to temporarily close down businesses deemed “non-essential,” including restaurants, barbershops, clothing stores, movie theaters, and casinos.
A strong majority of black voters also disapprove of the Trump administration’s (mis)management of the coronavirus response: 76 percent of them said they disapprove of Trump’s handling of the crisis. A slightly higher percentage (78 percent) said they can’t trust Trump to give truthful information about the pandemic. Of course, this shouldn’t come as much of a shock. Trump has never polled particularly well among black people—if anything, it may be surprising that nearly one in four black voters approved of Trump’s performance.
This stands in stark contrast to how these voters rated the performance of their governors, the media, and their neighbors in handling the crisis.
“People are trusting the people that are closest to them,” Shropshire said.
When asked to rate their neighbors’ response to the pandemic, 77 percent said they were doing either an “excellent” or “good” job. Nearly three-quarters of black voters also gave high marks to the media (73 percent) and their governors (70 percent). Shropshire notes there were variances from voters depending on which state they lived in. Black voters in North Carolina gave Democratic Governor Roy Cooper an 85 percent approval rating (notably, he was among the first Southern governors to put in place shelter-in-place mandates). Georgia’s Brian Kemp and Florida’s Ron DeSantis, both Republicans, earned substantially lower approval ratings for their management of the crisis (61 and 59 percent, respectively), though Shropshire points out these numbers are still substantially higher than Trump’s.
A question with major implications for the future of the country is how these feelings might affect voters at the polls this November. The presumptive Democratic nominee for president, former vice president Joe Biden, continues to trounce Trump among black voters, leading the incumbent 83-9. Black voters in battleground states were also excited about the possibility of his running mate being a black woman—an idea that has long been floated by the campaign. Almost half of Biden voters said they would get more enthusiastic about his candidacy if he picked a black woman veep, and nearly a quarter of BlackPAC survey respondents who said they didn’t vote in 2016 reported that they would be more likely to support Biden if he selected a black woman as his running mate.
But perhaps the most consequential takeaway concerns a key voting reform that is currently being debated in Congress and in state legislatures across the country: the possibility, and viability, of mail-in voting.
According to Shropshire, 80 percent of black voters said they would vote by mail if that option were available to them, even as a significant amount of respondents (41 percent) worried whether their vote would be counted. Those concerns are not unfounded, Shropshire pointed out—black voters and young voters are typically the first groups to have their ballots tossed.
Nearly half of those who didn’t vote in 2016 said they would prefer to vote via mail—suggesting that making this method of voting more readily available and accessible could activate people who, for a variety of reasons, didn’t participate in the last presidential election. Given the disproportionate influence battleground states wield over the presidential election, these mail-in votes could prove crucial to a free, fair election.
Shropshire sees two important takeaways to that data: Firstly, there is an overwhelming desire to participate safely and securely in this year’s general election, which mail-in voting provides.
“The other is that it’s important to recognize there’s a set of folks [who] made a choice to sit out and appear to be looking for ways to come back in. And we need to encourage that.” Shropshire said.
“The important thing, I think, for all of us is making sure that our community is participating fully in this upcoming election,” she said.
“And if voting by mail will make it easier for folks...then we ought to be encouraging that level of participation.”
Since Trump’s election, black voters have been particularly activated, even as a substantial amount of them have felt the Democratic Party hasn’t paid enough attention to the black community. Shropshire noted that 89 percent of black voters said they are likely to vote in this year’s election, and the black voting bloc has been central to “every Democratic victory since Trump got elected.”
Shropshire views this latest round of data as consistent with views black voters have had throughout Trump’s presidency: that the economy isn’t working for them, and has only gotten worse since Trump took the White House. The coronavirus pandemic and its disproportionate impact on black communities appears to have only emphasized these concerns. Black voters have named healthcare and the economy as their top issues in the past, and voters in this survey affirmed that was still the case (in this latest survey, 61 percent singled out healthcare as their most important issue, while 53 percent pointed to the economy). But concerns about the coronavirus leapfrogged over other longstanding issues, like racism and education: nearly a third of black battleground state voters (29 percent) called it a top priority.