A Generational Rift is Developing in the Black Electorate

(AP Photo/Rick Bowmer, file)

There’s a developing rift between younger and older black voters that could affect the 2020 presidential race and beyond.


Overall, our last three CNN polls have Biden at 44% among black voters. No one else is anywhere close; Harris is in second at 14%. Biden’s big league advantage in these polls is similar to the Fox News poll.

However, Biden’s standing drops to 36% among black voters under the age of 50. This is lower than the 51% he has among black voters aged 50 and older.

This is not to suggest younger black voters would vote for Trump in any great numbers. But there is a definite lack of enthusiasm for Biden among blacks under the age of 30:

Our model suggests that Biden’s support probably drops to below 30% among voters under the age of 30. It also suggests that the former vice president’s support is likely closer to 60% among black voters age 70 and older. That is, his support probably doubles between the youngest and oldest Democrats.

The trend has been noticeable since the 2016 Democratic primaries:

Back in the 2016 Democratic primary, the age gap was huge. Hillary Clinton won the black vote with somewhere around 75% in 2016. This large vote share came primarily from black primary voters older than 30. She took 70% among black voters ages 30 to 44, 85% from those ages 45 to 59 and 89% from those 60 years and older. Blacks under the age of 30 actually went for Sanders by a 52%-to-47% margin.

There has been a gradual falling away from the Democratic Party that appears to be accelerating with the younger generation:

This age gap is partially a reflection of party identification. Biden does better among Democratic black primary voters who self-identify as Democrats than he does among those who call themselves independents. For Sanders, it’s the reverse — just as it was in the 2016 primary.

Younger black Democratic primary voters are much more likely to call themselves independents than older ones, according to an aggregate of the last three CNN polls. Among black Democratic primary voters under 50 in our aggregated dataset, 68% say they are Democrats. About a third (32%) say they are independents. For those older than 50, 86% call themselves Democrats. Only 14% call themselves independents.

Quite simply, Democrats need black votes to defeat Donald Trump in 2020. They are virtually assured of getting 90 percent of that vote. But unless black voters turn out in about the same numbers that voted for Barack Obama, they are not likely to win. As a bloc, they are critical to the Party’s success — or failure.

Blacks make up 20 percent of the entire Democratic electorate. And in past primaries, that bloc used to march in lockstep for whichever candidate managed to come out on top. Since 1980, the winner of the Democratic primary contest won about 80 percent of the black vote.

But there appears to be some danger for Biden if the younger/older split among blacks plays out during the primaries. Younger voters who lack enthusiasm for Biden may not give him the same boost that Hillary Clinton got against Bernie Sanders in 2016. Just a few tens of thousands of black votes not cast in South Carolina could make a monumental difference in a primary featuring 7 or 8 candidates.

As for the general election, a lack of intensity among younger black voters could easily cost the Democratic nominee the election. The younger generation has proved itself to be more independent, more liberal, and not as content to accept the status quo as their elders.

Joe Biden, or whoever ends up the Democratic nominee, can’t afford a drop off in the numbers of black votes. It cost Hillary Clinton the 2016 election and could do the same in 2020.



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