This research by the Pew Institute breaks down demographic voting data from the 2016 election. Pew found that Hillary Clinton (Democrat) won Black voters by an 80% margin (88% to 8%).

Is there any specific policy or group of policies OFFICIALLY announced or supported by Republicans which cause Black voters to so overwhelmingly vote Democrat?

Note: by emphasizing OFFICIAL, I am hoping to avoid answers about "social perception" of party views unless it is written in an official party document or spoken by a Republican official in an official capacity.

  • 1
    It should be noted that Black voters have been Democrat-leaning since 1948, so the trend can hardly be blamed on Trump, or even on Nixon.
    – dan04
    Aug 6, 2020 at 5:05

2 Answers 2


This answer is freely adapted from a post from last year by Kevin Drum.

In 2012, after Mitt Romney’s defeat, the Republican National Committee identified the demographic problem faced by the GOP:

In 1980, exit polls tell us that the electorate was 88 percent white. In 2012, it was 72 percent white….According to the Pew Hispanic Center, in 2050, whites will be 47 percent of the country….The Republican Party must be committed to building a lasting relationship within the African American community year-round, based on mutual respect and with a spirit of caring.

However reaching out to Black voters obviously requires Republicans to take a strong stance against racism, for instance clearly disapprove of any form of white supremacism, acknowledge and combat institutional racism, exclude any member expressing racist views, etc. This would naturally involve losing some of the most extreme of their voters who actually hold racist views. Thus the process of opening up to black voters would take some time, and during this time the GOP would probably lose a few battles because the far-right voters would likely leave before Black voters could eventually be convinced to vote Republican.

In 2016 Trump arrived and he took a completely opposite strategy: instead of reaching out to Black voters, he went very strongly after the white vote, clearly appealing to racist voters. In particular Trump exploited the frustration felt by many poor, mostly uneducated white people after 8 years of a Black president. He lost the support of some college-educated whites but gained more support from working-class whites.

By now, it's clear that the GOP has endorsed Trump and his strategy. Very few Republicans voice any concern, even when Trump makes openly racist comments. This means that the GOP has not only abandoned (or at least paused) any kind of strategy to appeal to Black voters, it supports a political strategy which consists in appealing to racist voters. Naturally Black voters are not enthusiastic about this strategy.

  • "acknowledge institutional racism" there it is again. Try "acknowledge and combat institutional racism". Alias don't talk, act.
    – RedSonja
    Aug 6, 2020 at 8:13
  • 1
    Isn't rhetoric a rather powerful form of action in itself? Just look at the damage wrought by Trump's rhetoric about election fraud, or coronavirus, or racial issues for that matter. Changes in Republican opinion toward Russia, or societal views on same-sex marriage, are examples of major, relatively rapid shifts that came about largely through signaling by thought leaders. Seems to me it works both ways.
    – Obie 2.0
    Aug 6, 2020 at 11:01
  • 3
    Of course with the Republican Party, they would have to start by not actively using racism to win elections....
    – Obie 2.0
    Aug 6, 2020 at 11:04
  • 2
    @RedSonja fair point, I edited per your suggestion (sadly at this stage acknowledgement alone would be a major progress).
    – Erwan
    Aug 6, 2020 at 12:30

In terms of official policies of the modern Republican Party that deter a number of Black voters, they are not too hard to find. For instance, voter ID laws are widely perceived as an attempt to disenfranchise African Americans, and at least in 2014 many Republicans were publicly expressing their support for such laws. The American Legislative Exchange Council had also supported them in 2012.

In more recent times, the racist statements of President Trump, the leader of the Republican Party, have done little to endear him to most members of almost any non-White racial minority group. Some of the ones that might been seen to target Black voters directly include his alleged statements that all Haitians have AIDs, and that Nigerian immigrants would never go back to "their huts,"1 or perhaps most notoriously, his statement that he reportedly wanted fewer immigrants from countries like Haiti and Nigeria, which he decribed in vulgar terms, and more from countries "like Norway" (i.e. of majority European origin). Lest one argue that these do not reflect actual policy, I would point out that (a) it does not matter to the explanation, since they certainly turn away voters, and (b) they very likely do reflect policy, as illustrated by, for instance, Trump's various immigration bans, including the most recent, almost total prohibition that he justifies by appealing to the coronavirus pandemic. As noted in comments, he has also expressed support for the Confederate flag and other Confederate memorials, which many people, particularly Black Americans, perceive as glorifications of slavery.

When other prominent Republicans make similarly dubious statements, as when Congressperson Steve King said that he did not see what the problem with White supremacy was, it also sends, to put it delicately, a very negative message. More subtle rhetoric from Republicans has a long history: for instance, Ronald Reagan's use of the term "welfare queen." Again, while the Republican Party may not have been so blatant as to put "ensure that fewer Black Americans receive state aid" as a plank of their platform, when they make opposition to entitlements an essential part of their plan, the line between language like Reagan's and that officially supported policy is easy to draw.

However, I think that it would be a mistake to look at statements made by the modern Republican Party without considering that the shift of most African American voters to the Democratic Party occurred long before any such statement. Then they doubled down. Members of the Republican Party, like Nixon's political strategist Kevin Phillips, made statements like this:

From now on, the Republicans are never going to get more than 10 to 20 percent of the Negro vote and they don't need any more than that... but Republicans would be shortsighted if they weakened enforcement of the Voting Rights Act. The more Negroes who register as Democrats in the South, the sooner the Negrophobe whites will quit the Democrats and become Republicans. That's where the votes are. Without that prodding from the blacks, the whites will backslide into their old comfortable arrangement with the local Democrat.

In other words, he is saying: The Republicans certainly do not care about ensuring the voting rights of Black Americans, and they can get by entirely on the White vote. That said, we should not be too blatant about it, for purely self-interested means. This, of course, was the infamous Southern Strategy.

When a party rejects any pretense of trying to gain the support of a group, and admits that it would like to weaken the laws that allow that group to be represented, unsurprisingly, it is going to lose support. That projected 10-20% has fallen to under 10% since Phillips gave that interview.

Of course, Phillips was commenting on a trend that had started long before his interview. I am not a historian, but I think a major contributor to that trend was not so much parties stating that they supported a certain platform that explicitly oppressed African Americans (though that did happen), but more which parties affirmatively proposed platforms that helped them. The major turning point, though not the beginning of the trend, would probably be Democratic support of the Voting Rights Act, and the divisive, racially-charged candidacy of Barry Goldwater, after which Southern Democrats found less and less of a home in the Democratic Party, whereas conservative Republicans found more and more of a home, in part due to intentional strategies by those parties.

So, really, the focus on concrete policies, and policies inferred from statements, that exist in the modern period, although quite sufficient to explain why many Black voters would dislike the Republican Party, especially under Trump, is only one factor. The association of the Republican Party with those past policies is enough to make some people skeptical of outreach attempts like "compassionate conservatism." I recall an elderly Sephardic Jewish woman saying, with regard to the Spanish government, that "they're still the same people who made us leave," and I think this illustrates a similar principle: people will not easily forget the past behavior of an organization, even when they seem to turn over a new leaf, and especially when they don't show any sign of it. They are not just focused on concrete current platforms.

1: By the way, Nigerian immigrants are among the immigrant groups with highest educational attainment (especially in the second generation). A number come from Lagos, the 17th-most populous city in the world. But then, geography was never Trump's strong suit

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .