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A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

Trump and the Black Vote

In boasting of his support among African American voters, Donald Trump made some false and misleading statements:

  • Trump claimed “African American youth is 58 percent unemployed.” The official unemployment rate for blacks ages 16 to 19 in January was 25.2 percent.
  • Trump said a “recent poll” showed 25 percent of blacks support him in a hypothetical race against Hillary Clinton. That “recent poll” is actually from September. Six recent polls, all taken in February, show his support ranges from 4 percent to 12 percent.
  • Trump said Republican presidential candidates “usually get about 4 percent or 5 percent” of black support. That was the case in 2008 and 2012, when Barack Obama — the nation’s first black president — was on the ballot. But from 1980 to 2004, the Republican candidate received 8 percent to 12 percent, which is consistent with Trump’s support among blacks.

Trump made his remarks on CNN’s “State of the Union.” Anchor Jake Tapper asked Trump about the Republican’s ability to attract non-white voters in a general election. Trump said he thinks the general election will be “between Hillary and myself,” and he predicted that he will “do great with African Americans” because of his promise to create jobs.

Trump, Feb. 21: And a recent poll came out where I had 25 percent African American. And the Republicans usually get about 4 percent or 5 percent. And one of the hosts said, if he ever gets 25 percent, this election’s over. You might as well not run it. I’m going to do great with the African Americans. African American youth is 58 percent unemployed. African Americans in their prime are substantially worse off, you know, economically than a — than the whites in their prime. And it’s very — it’s a very sad situation.

We can quickly dispense of Trump’s claim that unemployment among black youths is 58 percent. That’s more than twice as high as the official unemployment rate. The Bureau of Labor Statistics says the unemployment rate in January was 25.2 percent for blacks ages 16 to 19.

Now, the unemployment rate does not include part-time workers who want full-time work and marginally attached workers, who are defined as those who have given up looking for a job but had looked for one in the past year. If those people are included, then the rate for the unemployed and underemployed for blacks ages 16 to 19 would have been 38.8 percent in January, based on our calculations of unpublished BLS data. (BLS provided us with the unpublished data and confirmed our calculations.)

But 38.8 percent is still far short of 58 percent. Besides, Trump said unemployed; he did not say the underemployed and unemployed.

Trump has exaggerated the unemployment rate for all U.S. workers in the past, as we have written twice before. Most recently, Trump claimed he “heard” the unemployment rate was really 42 percent, when actually the national unemployment rate in January was 4.9 percent. The U-6 rate — an alternative measure published by the BLS that includes part-time workers wanting full-time work and all the “marginally attached” — was 9.9 percent in January. The U-6 is the most comprehensive measure of the underemployed and unemployed.

As for his standing in the polls among blacks, Trump is right that one poll showed him with 25 percent support in a hypothetical general election race against Clinton. But it wasn’t a “recent poll.” It was a SurveyUSA Poll from Sept. 2-3, 2015. Jay H. Leve, founder of SurveyUSA, told us that the margin of error was plus or minus 10 percentage points, as is usually the case for a subset of poll respondents.

Trump tweeted about the survey when it was released in September. But that poll was an outlier at the time, as the Washington Post wrote, and his standing among blacks is not that high in recent polls. In fact, polls show his support ranges from 4 percent to 12 percent.

We looked at all polling data available for a potential Trump-Clinton race on Real Clear Politics and Pollster. Not all polls break down the candidates’ support by race, but we found six polls taken in February that did:

Fox News, Feb. 15-17: Trump’s support among blacks was 10 percent. That’s within the margin of error, which was plus or minus 9 points.

USA Today/Suffolk, Feb. 11-15: Trump got 7 percent. The poll provided no margin of error. However, it noted: “Error margins increase for smaller subgroups.”

Quinnipiac University, Feb. 10-15: This poll showed Trump’s level of support at 12 percent — the highest level of any poll taken in February. However, it was in line with what other Republican candidates received in that poll: Ohio Gov. John Kasich, 18 percent; Sen. Ted Cruz, 16 percent; and Sen. Marco Rubio, 11 percent. The margin of error is plus or minus 10.39 percentage points.

Morning Consult, Feb. 3-7: Trump received 11 percent. The poll did not provide any margin of error information.

Public Policy Polling, Feb. 2-3: Trump received 4 percent, and, again, there was no margin of error given.

Quinnipiac University, Feb. 2-4: Trump received 10 percent, and the margin of error was plus or minus 9.75 percentage points.

The second part of Trump’s claim — that “Republicans usually get about 4 percent or 5 percent” in presidential elections — is misleading.

In the 2008 and 2012 elections, the Republican candidates received 4 percent and 6 percent, respectively, according to the nonpartisan Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies. But the center noted that the level of black support for Republican presidential candidates “nose-dived” in those years because of Obama, even though support for the Republican Party remained largely unchanged.

Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, 2012: In the presidential election years of 1996, 2000, and 2004 there were three different Democratic candidates for President, but the black presidential vote remained essentially unchanged, except for a dip in GOP support in 2000 [Figure 2]. In 1996, Kansas Senator Bob Dole received 12 percent of the black vote. In 2000, former Texas Governor George W. Bush received eight percent of the black vote, and in 2004, he received 11 percent of the black vote. However, in 2008 the black Republican vote nose-dived to four percent for Senator McCain in his race against President Obama. Support for the Republican Party by African Americans still largely remains in the range of 10 +/-5 percent.

It remains to be seen what the level of black support for the Republican nominee will be in 2016. But Trump is wrong to say that 4 percent to 5 percent is the norm.