A Serious Look at Trump’s Claim He Will Win 95 Percent of the Black Vote in 2020

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Eisenhower tried harder than any modern Republican president to appeal to black voters. Trump claims he will do a whole lot better.
Photo: Bettmann/Getty Images

When Republican vice-presidential candidate Mike Pence was asked about his maximum leader’s boast that in a reelection campaign in 2020 he’d win 95 percent of the black vote, he reacted pretty much the way everyone did: He laughed. “Well, that’s Donald Trump,” he said.

It’s interesting, to put it mildly, that even Trump’s running mate thinks wild exaggerations and self-promoting bullshit are signature traits. But to get a sense of how brazen the Republican nominee is in his flights of mendacious fancy, it’s worth a quick look at exactly how insane that projection is.

Gallup has a useful table of comparative demographic breakouts from their final polling in presidential elections, dating back to 1952. They didn’t begin isolating African-American voters until 2000, so the appropriate apples-to-apples comparison over time is of “nonwhite” voters, a category that boosts GOP performance because it includes many Latinos and all Asian-Americans (both groups are historically more likely to vote Republican than blacks).

Looking at Republican presidents running for reelection, you could start with George W. Bush, who in appealing to African-Americans could boast of No Child Left Behind legislation, a faith-based social-services initiative pretty heavily targeted to black churches, and an opposition to same-sex marriage and civil unions that also appealed to a lot of African-Americans at the time. He also was reasonably popular among Latinos, as it happens. He got 17 percent of the nonwhite vote in 2004.

Ronald Reagan was by most standards a pretty successful Republican president. He even made Trump-like appeals to black voters based on the economic miracle he had allegedly authored. In 1984, he took 13 percent of the nonwhite vote, marginally better than the 10 percent he captured in 1980.

In Richard Nixon’s 1972 landslide win, he also took 13 percent of the nonwhite vote.

If you go all the way back to 1956, you find the only modern Republican president who made outreach to black voters a major emphasis of his reelection campaign, and who also had a credible claim of superiority to Democrats on conventional civil-rights benchmarks. In his first term, Dwight D. Eisenhower desegregated the U.S.military; publicly praised Brown v. Board of Education; appointed many pro-civil-rights federal judges in southern states; and appointed record numbers of African-Americans. Unlike his Democratic opponent, Adlai Stevenson, a famously liberal candidate who was trying to protect his southern segregationist flank, Ike openly appealed for black support, and was himself endorsed by a majority of African-American newspapers along with many black political leaders, including Democratic congressman Adam Clayton Powell of Harlem.

So what did Ike gain from all these efforts? He won (according to Gallup) 39 percent of the nonwhite vote (and less than 40 percent of the black vote according to later estimates).

Richard Nixon’s 1960 campaign was in some respects a campaign for Ike’s third term; he was a member of the administration that sent federal troops into Little Rock to enforce a school-desegregation order and supported the first successful civil-rights legislation since Reconstruction. Nixon managed to win 32 percent of the nonwhite vote (aided by John F. Kennedy’s less-than-sterling civil-rights record, along with the Democrat’s Catholicism, which alienated a lot of black clergy).

Then came Barry Goldwater and the GOP’s Southern Strategy, and never since has a Republican presidential candidate come within hailing distance of 20 percent of the black vote.

So Trump’s 95 percent projection isn’t just an exaggeration, or a laughable boast, or a political fish tale: to the extent it reflects any kind of actual assessment of how he sees the electorate, it’s probably closer to a delusion. And as such, it’s another data point for voters of every background undermining the man’s credibility.