President Trump’s approval rating among blacks stood at 40% in a Rasmussen poll two days before Halloween. Rasmussen surveys are often friendlier to the president than those of other polling organizations, so critics are quick to dismiss them as outliers. In this instance, however, that could be a mistake.
Black voters are critical to Democratic prospects in 2020. Two years ago, blacks did not turn out in the numbers Hillary Clinton was expecting, and people in heavily black neighborhoods who did cast a ballot voted more Republican than they had in 2012. It was a double whammy for liberals, who know that if a large segment of the black vote is even in play in 2020, the Democratic Party is in trouble. And while the Rasmussen number is almost certainly too high, other polling suggests that the improvement in Mr. Trump’s standing among blacks is real.
Notwithstanding his “birther” baggage and relative disinterest in courting blacks on the campaign trail, Mr. Trump won support from 8% of all black voters and 13% of black men in 2016, according to exit polls. During his first year in office, the president’s support among women, whites and younger voters declined, yet black support swelled. During 2017,SurveyMonkey found, 23% of black men and 11% of black women approved of Mr. Trump’s performance. “Black men are one of the few groups for which Trump’s 2017 average approval rating significantly exceeds his 2016 vote share,” the Atlantic’s Ronald Brownstein wrote in January.
The trend has continued. A June poll from the Pew Research Center found Mr. Trump’s approval rating among blacks at 14%, and an NAACP survey released in August put it at 21%. A large majority of blacks, especially women, continue to oppose the president. And telling a pollster that you approve of Mr. Trump’s job performance does not necessarily mean that you will vote for him. Between 1982 and 1985, black approval of Ronald Reagan nearly tripled, to 28% from 10%, but Republicans saw no significant uptick in black support for George H.W. Bush in 1988.
Most media coverage of the president gives the impression that black antipathy is universal, but that’s a left-wing fantasy. The black voters I interviewed after the 2016 election told me that they hadn’t supported Mr. Trump but were willing to give him a chance. Could it be that the president’s black support has grown because blacks are more interested in results than rhetoric?
Writing in National Review last week, Deroy Murdock suggested that more blacks have been warming to the president for the simple reason that their fortunes have improved on his watch. Some 1.2 million additional blacks have found work since Mr. Trump was elected, and rates of black unemployment and poverty have dipped to generational lows. Black homeownership has risen, and so have wages for black workers as the labor market has tightened. This is a reversal of trends during President Obama’s time in office, when black homeownership declined and the black-white poverty gap widened.
It’s too soon to tell if any of this will result in more black votes for Mr. Trump and his party in two years, but it does help explain the disconnect between the polling on black attitudes toward the president and the commentary on news outlets like CNN. The president’s tin ear on race—reflected in his Twitter spats with black athletes and his clumsy response to the Charlottesville rioting, among other instances—is unfortunate but hardly the sum of his time in office. And why should it be, especially for blacks or anyone who struggled under the previous president but is now doing much better?
One lesson of the Obama presidency is that black economic success doesn’t flow naturally from black political success. Electing a president who understands economic growth turns out to be more important than electing someone who happens to share your racial or ethnic background. Mr. Obama needed black voters to reach the White House, but it’s not at all clear that black voters needed him. If blacks felt strongly that the previous administration’s policies were improving their lives, they would have done more to help elect Mrs. Clinton. And if Democrats don’t want their next presidential nominee to meet a similar fate, they’ll stop dismissing out of hand any evidence that the president’s black support has risen since 2016.
There’s nothing to stop Mr. Trump from making a concerted effort to build on his base of minority support by visiting more black communities, explaining his agenda, and listening to what the residents have to say. Liberal activists and the press won’t give him much credit for it. But come 2020, more black voters might.