Both showings were significantly better for Trump than in 2016. And Trump’s 2016 showing was better than Republicans had been doing among Black voters.
What accounts for Trump’s 2020 numbers? The usual explanation is economic. Black employment soared under Trump until the pandemic hit, so this explanation is quite plausible.
As for Black men, some believe that Trump’s style — direct, aggressive, and macho — has appeal to this cohort. Again, the explanation seems plausible.
Byron York offers another explanation — one that I hadn’t seen before. He suggests that Trump made his inroads with religious Blacks. Byron quotes Ryan Burge, a political science professor at Eastern Illinois University who studies the interplay of religion and voting. According to Burge:
People are starting to understand that to be religious in the United States is to be Republican. That linkage is growing stronger over the last couple of years. For instance, there’s some pretty compelling evidence that young, religiously devout African-Americans have really shifted away from the Democrats since Trump’s election.
For men, it’s a bit more pronounced. Just a decade ago, three-quarters of young black men who went to church weekly were Democrats. Today, it’s closer to 60 percent. For women, it’s more subtle — maybe down eight points from the peak. But it’s still there.
Actually, it seems that Trump ran less well among Black Protestants than he did among Blacks in general. Berge puts Trump’s level of support from Black Protestants in 2020 at only 9 percent.
But this doesn’t negate the theory that the religious vote has contributed to the increase in support for Republicans among Blacks. According to Berge, Mitt Romney won only 3 percent of Black Protestants and Trump won only 7 percent of them in 2016. (There is nothing in Byron’s report about Black Catholics.)
Berge says that nowadays 12 to 13 percent of Black evangelicals identify as Republicans. That’s up from six to seven percent in around 2012. From Berge’s numbers, it can be inferred that Trump failed to have a solid grip on the Black Republican evangelical vote.
Perhaps a more devout and moral Republican standard bearer would capture a higher percentage of this vote. On the other hand, Berge’s numbers suggest that Mitt Romney didn’t do so in 2012. This, though, was against a Black opponent.
The key, I suppose, is appealing to devoutly religious Black voters who understand that Republicans are the pro-religion party, while at the same time appealing to less devout Black males who like a direct, hard-hitting candidate.
But I still see the economy, not religion, as the key. If the economy is strong in 2024, I expect the Democratic nominee will win back some of the lost Black vote. If not, the trend in favor of the GOP should continue.