President Biden has an enthusiasm problem — again. Since he kicked off his reelection bid in late April, asking Americans for another four years to “finish this job,” there’s been plenty of attention to his potential weaknesses among key voting blocs, particularly Black voters. New data from the 2022 midterm elections also reinforces earlier election analysis suggesting that turnout was down among Black and Hispanic Americans compared to the 2018 midterms, underscoring concerns that support for Biden could be slipping among voters of color.
We took a look at the numbers and found that yes, Biden’s approval has dropped dramatically among Black Americans since he took office in January 2021. But the biggest decline wasn’t among Black Americans: It was among Hispanic Americans.
These approval trends, and other recent polls, suggest that while Biden does have reasons to be concerned about tepid interest among Black voters, his problems aren’t confined to this group. During the 2020 election, the Biden campaign was criticized for its flawed outreach to Hispanic voters, and key segments of this group, including Hispanic voters living in Miami and the Rio Grande Valley, went on to support former President Donald Trump in surprisingly high numbers. Hispanic Americans now may be even less supportive of Biden than Black Americans, exposing another vulnerability for the president as he heads into his reelection campaign. Biden’s approval has recently recovered slightly among Black Americans, though, rising from an average of about 60 percent approval in July 2022 to an average of around 70 percent in April 2023. That improvement coincided with growing optimism among Black Americans about the state of the economy, suggesting that Biden may be able to repair some damage among this key group — particularly if views on the economy continue to improve.
Biden’s overall approval rating has been underwater since the summer of 2021, falling during the botched withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan and remaining low as inflation surged. Voters of color, in particular, seem disappointed with Biden’s performance, with favorability ratings falling more than 13 percentage points among Black and Hispanic Americans between the spring of 2021 and the spring of 2023.
Apart from the sour economy, voters of color have plenty of reasons to be frustrated with Biden’s first term. He came into office with a string of lofty promises — comprehensive federal voting rights legislation, police reform, clear pathways to citizenship for immigrants — none of which were enacted during his first two years in office, when Democrats controlled Congress. Now, with Republicans in charge of the House of Representatives, there’s little chance that these policies will pass, leaving Biden with broken promises to answer for. A recent Ipsos/Washington Post poll found that only 34 percent of Black Americans say that Biden’s policies have helped Black people, while 14 percent say they’ve hurt Black people and nearly half (49 percent) say they haven’t made a difference.
And there’s evidence from recent polls that some voters of color are less likely than Democrats overall to want Biden to run for reelection. For example, a YouGov/Economist poll conducted April 29 to May 2 found that less than half (46 percent) of Black respondents and only 37 percent of Hispanic respondents want Biden to run for a second term, compared to 54 percent of Democrats overall. Add that to the fact that Black turnout does seem to have fallen overall in the 2022 midterms, while Republicans maintained their 2020 levels of support among Latinos — plus a recent slew of anecdotal reporting about Black voters’ frustration with Biden — and it looks like a fairly bleak picture for the president. After all, Black voters were key to Biden’s primary victory back in 2020, and Trump’s inroads among Hispanic voters narrowed Democrats’ margins during the general election, prompting anxiety on the left about the future of the party’s diverse coalition if the trend continues.
There are two separate worries here. One is that if voters of color are uninspired by Biden, they simply won’t turn out to vote. Democratic activists have long complained that mainstream candidates like Biden take voters of color for granted, assuming they will continue to vote for Democrats because the Republican Party ignores them at best and is openly hostile to them at worst. But of course, that’s not a fair assumption: People always have the option to simply not vote. And then there’s the possibility that some voters of color could actually flip to Republicans. That’s particularly true of Latinos, a complex constituency with plenty of reasons to consider Republican candidates.
But the situation isn’t as dreary for Biden as it appears — at least, when it comes to Black voters. For one thing, even if Black voters aren’t especially enthusiastic about the idea of a second Biden term, they haven’t soured on him personally. A YouGov/CBS News poll conducted from April 21-24 found that Black respondents are much likelier (at 76 percent) than Hispanic (55 percent) or white (42 percent) respondents to say they like how Biden handles himself personally. The same poll found that Black respondents (73 percent) are much likelier than white (52 percent) or Hispanic (48 percent) respondents to say they would feel “accepting” about Biden running for reelection, and less likely (13 percent) than white (22 percent) or Hispanic (23 percent) respondents to say they would be “disappointed.”
Meanwhile, that YouGov/Economist poll suggests that Black voters continue to see Biden as the Democrats’ strongest candidate: The poll found that 50 percent of Black Americans believe that Biden is the strongest candidate Democrats could nominate for president in 2024, compared to 32 percent of Hispanic respondents and 22 percent of white respondents. And the bottom line from 2022 might not be as bad for Democrats as it seems, at least among Black voters — a recent analysis from the Democratic-leaning firm Catalist found that while Black turnout did fall, levels of Black support for Democrats increased in highly contested races in the South, where Black candidates were running for major offices and Democratic campaigns and organizations focused a significant amount of resources on getting out the vote. (On the other hand, a lack of investment among Black voters in other places may have hurt Democrats in at least one state — in the Wisconsin U.S. Senate election, only 84 percent of Black voters went for the Democrat, down from 90 percent in 2020.)
Part of Biden’s challenge is that perceptions of the success of his presidency are closely tied to how the economy is doing, which is something that’s very hard for the president to control directly. There are some signs that Black and Hispanic Americans’ outlook on the economy is improving — although it’s still far from rosy. A recent tracking poll from Civiqs shows that less than half (44 percent) of Black Americans say the current condition of the national economy is fairly bad or worse, down from around 57 percent in late June 2022. Hispanic Americans’ view of the economy is more negative, but it’s also improved since last summer.
So a lot could depend on what happens to the economy over the next year — especially whether inflation continues to slow, whether the country is able to avoid a recession caused by the federal government’s attempts to curb inflation and whether a debt ceiling deal goes through. If the economy improves, Biden will be in a stronger position overall, and voters of color may be less skeptical about whether he deserves a second term. But whatever happens, it’s clear that the Biden campaign will need to actively engage with Black and Hispanic voters if the president wants to maintain the Democratic Party’s diverse coalition in 2024.
Additional contributions from Ryan Best, Cooper Burton and Holly Fuong.
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