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Americans didn’t repudiate Donald Trump. But Black voters did.


Vice president-elect Kamala Harris is paying tribute to Black women who “so often prove they are the backbone of our democracy.” Harris, the daughter of Jamaican and Indian immigrants, is the first woman to be elected to the vice presidency. (Nov. 7)

AP Domestic

African American voters were a critical demographic that helped determine the final outcome of the 2020 presidential election.

Stomping for votes during the 2016 presidential campaign, Donald Trump turned his attention to Black Americans. Speaking on a warm August evening at a sports complex in Dimondale, Michigan, a Lansing suburb, Trump delivered a blunt assessment of how he views the Black electorate.

“What do you have to lose by trying something new, like Trump?” he asked, addressing African Americans at large. “You’re living in poverty, your schools are no good. You have no jobs, 58% of your youth is unemployed — what the hell do you have to lose?”

Apparently, a lot. 

Americans last week waited four excruciating days before taking to the streets to celebrate the historic election of President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris. And even as votes are still being counted, it’s clear that Black voters helped steer the moral clarity needed to move this country forward.

Record numbers of Americans cast ballots —  nearly 160 million  — but African American voters were a critical demographic that helped determine the final outcome of the 2020 presidential election. Cities with large Black populations such as Philadelphia, Detroit and Atlanta bolstered Biden’s lead in key battleground states the Democratic Party lost four years ago. 

Black Voters Matter hosted a get-out-the-vote event in Philadelphia Oct. 17, 2020. (Photo: Courtesy of Black Voters Matter)

About 87% of Black voters nationwide chose Biden over Trump, according to preliminary national exit polling. Those early exit polls show that 19% of Black men voted for Trump, as did 9% of Black women.

An Associated Press VoteCast survey showed overall larger Black support for Biden — 90%. According to the AP survey, 12% of Black men voted for Trump, while only 6% of Black women supported him. 

Among all voters, Biden won Detroit, capturing 94% of the vote while Trump received only 5%. In Philadelphia, Biden grabbed 81% compared to 18% for Trump. Philly’s diverse surrounding suburbs also outperformed for Biden. Atlanta residents backed Biden over Trump 73% to 26%.

At least one preliminary snapshot shows that Trump made slight inroads with Black voters, compared with 2016 results. And while final numbers may show a negligible Trump bump this year among African American voters, exit polls are notoriously inaccurate, especially when the final vote count hasn’t been weighted.

So what do we know? Not much beyond that fact that Black voters saved this election for Biden. Biden received his first boost in February when Rep. James Clyburn, the House majority whip and highest-ranking African American in Congress, endorsed him three days before the South Carolina primary. Democratic voters said Clyburn’s endorsement was an important factor in their decision to vote for Biden, who won in a landslide.

Pounding the podium for emphasis, Biden also acknowledged Black voters during his victory speech Saturday night, declaring that “the African American community stood up again for me.”

“You’ve always had my back, and I’ll have yours,” he said. 

He must work quickly. Americans are in need of a steady hand to guide us through the worsening coronavirus pandemic. Numbers of infections and deaths keep climbing, as do those facing eviction and the spiral into poverty. Black Americanss, in particular, have also expressed a desire to see Biden address racial inequality, the lack of living-wage jobs, access to affordable housing and criminal justice reform. And after four years of Trump, African Americans want an empathetic president who will simply listen to them.

Harris, the first African American and South Asian American woman to be elected vice president, also expressed gratitude for the millions of Black women who cast votes for Biden/Harris, the highest percentage of any racial group.

“I want to speak directly to the Black women in our country,” Harris wrote in a tweet Monday. “Thank you. You are too often overlooked, and yet are asked time and again to step up and be the backbone of our democracy. We could not have done this without you.”

Black voters, Black people in general, don’t all think the same. There is no monolithic Black constituency; instead, there are vast distinctions in thought sometimes related to geography, culture, religion, age, gender and upbringing. But certain broad issues — racial injustice, economic inequality, voter suppression, law enforcement bias, educational access, health care — resonate with Black Americans.

Trump probably didn’t realize it at the time, but his callous words in that predominately white, working-class Michigan community in 2016 would foreshadow four years of pain and suffering that followed. What’s laughable is that during the same speech Trump predicted: “At the end of four years, I guarantee you that I will get over 95% of the African American vote. I promise you.”

Another broken promise. Here are the facts:

Trump’s lack of leadership and incompetence allowed the deadly coronavirus to run rampant, disproportionately affecting Black people. Trump has attacked Black athletes, Black journalists and Black female members of Congress. He has called African countries “s—holes.” He has aligned himself with white nationalists, called Black Lives Matter a symbol of hate, and answered cries for freedom during racial justice protests this summer with a “law and order” rhetoric. 

In April, when cornonavirus-induced unemployment numbers peaked nationally at 14.7% — the highest rate since the Great Depression — unemployment levels for Black people soared to 16.7%. 

In September, 12.1% of Black Americans were out of work, compared with 7% of whites.

Under Trump, Black folks have lost a lot.

Even so, I wanted to hear from Black voters who supported Trump. Exit polling can be flawed, but if the numbers hold, at least nominally more Black Americans supported Trump than in 2016. If circumstantial evidence is any indication, I struggled to find any who weren’t deeply aligned and publicly active with the Republican Party.

President Donald Trump courts Black voters ahead of 2020 election. (Photo: Getty Images)

Wayne Bradley, 44, a Southfield, Michigan, resident who owns a political consulting firm in Detroit, said Black people who supported Trump often look at issues such as gun control, judicial appointees, personal wealth and anti-abortion sentiment when casting their ballots. I asked Bradley how he could overlook the racist rhetoric Trump has peddled, from birtherism, which questioned President Barack Obama’s citizenship, to his “fine people on both sides” comments following the protests in Charlottesville, Virginia.

“As a Black man I’m not comfortable with that, but I’m a results-orientated kind of person,” Bradley told me this week. “If you’re providing opportunities to people, I’m OK with that. I can live with talk. I need to see action. And the action and the results were speaking for itself. If it wasn’t for COVID, I think he would have won again. He would have had more Black support than he has right now. That was his major stumbling block, COVID, and the way it looks right now, he may pay the price with his presidency.”

Trump did walk away with more than 72 million votes — and counting — certainly not the repudiation some expected. And America must still grapple with the realities that such a large swath of citizens would throw support behind a man who has caused so much harm and division. But for the overwhelming majority of Black Americans, the message to Trump was loud and clear: Get your bags and go.

National columnist Suzette Hackney is a member of USA TODAY’S Editorial Board. Contact her at or on Twitter: @suzyscribe


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