by Larry Smith
If the 2020 election had a tagline, it would probably be “What’s up with Black men voting for Trump?” Indeed, much ado has been made about an alleged “sharp rise” in the percentage of Black men who voted for Donald Trump this year as compared to 2016. This includes recently voiced, media-hyped support from a few rappers, such as Lil Wayne and Lil Pump — though the latter didn’t even bother to vote. (I may or may not resist the temptation to make a snide remark about diminutive brothers seeking attention.)
If one weren’t paying attention to the actual numbers, it might seem as though upwards of 40% of Black men voted for Trump. However, based upon the data that we have, the actual number is 18% to 19%. Still, that would be a noteworthy increase over Trump’s support among Black men, which was 12% in 2016. (It’s important to note that exit polls are notoriously unreliable, especially before official vote tallies are completed.)
Not surprisingly, there has been widespread speculation (and scurrilous accusations) regarding the reasons why nearly 1 in 5 Black men voted for Trump — which, if it holds, is the highest percentage for a Republican presidential candidate since 1980. Are these men self-hating because they voted for someone who has repeatedly made racist statements? Are they misogynists who have a particular distaste for “strong, independent Black women” — as some have suggested? The answers to such questions, which spring from centuries of Black pain, are complex.
First, the issue is not simply “Black men support Donald Trump”; the issue is that men support Donald Trump — who is especially popular among white men. Trump also has more support among Hispanic men than he does among Hispanic women; the same is true for Asian men and women. In short, Trump’s appeal to men transcends race. Men often have an affinity for other men whom they perceive to be “ubermasculine.” For many, Trump fits that bill.
There are other considerations, including religious and social ones. For example, according to an NBC News Poll, Trump garnered 52% of Black men who self-identify as “conservative.” Further, 1 in 3 Black men in the Midwest — which is more conservative than much of the country — voted for Trump. Education also plays a role. Black men who don’t have a college degree were more likely to vote for Trump than were those who have obtained a bachelor’s degree or higher — though the margins were much closer than among white men.
Finally, we must consider Joe Biden’s flaws. Trump was effective at emphasizing Biden’s authoring of 1994 Crime Bill, which resulted in epidemic numbers of Black men going to prison. Trump contrasted this now-reviled law with the “First Step Act” that he (i.e., Trump) signed. He also made inroads by arguing that Biden hadn’t proactively done much on behalf of African Americans, despite being in power for several decades. Finally, Biden made racist statements decades ago. In short, he was far from a perfect candidate.
With regard to gender, arguing that sexism led Black men to support Trump is problematic. This is primarily because the percentage of Black women who voted for Trump actually doubled in 2020 (4% to 8%). Also, while Trump lost some support from white women, he still fared much better than one might have expected given the last four years.
In summary, it seems clear that most Black people who voted for Donald Trump did so for the same reasons that white people did: conservative social and religious values and the belief that he would be better for the economy.
It’s important to keep in mind that Trump’s surprising performance among African Americans may not be a long-term trend in which future Republican candidates can take solace. His showing might be in part due to record voter turnout, not to mention his longstanding celebrity status.
In the end, it is Trump’s nearly bulletproof support among white people, not to mention a stronger-than-expected showing among Hispanics, that garnered him more than 70 million votes. To single out Black men is silly. And unfair. And misleading.
Frankly, it’s hard for me to understand why anyone, of any race, or any culture, or any age, or any gender would support Donald Trump. So, cut the brothers some slack. Even famous ones can come up short.
Larry Smith is a community leader. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.