Presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton was always expected to do well with African American voters, but Donald Trump may help her do even better.
“I think Trump helps drive black voter turn out. I really do,” says Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD) “He has created more unforced errors than any politician I’ve ever seen…People question his judgement.”
Pollsters, strategists and Democratic politicians are beginning to forsee a November election where Trump’s divisive rhetoric drives black voters to the polls for Clinton in the same numbers they came out for Obama, better enabling her to hold onto rust belt states like Ohio, Pennsylvania and Michigan where Trump is betting on white working class voters to win the White House.
“Any doubts about black turnout that we had, Donald Trump has more than compensated for the absence of Obama,” Rep. Charlie Rangel (D-N.Y.) told TPM. “I think Donald Trump has done more for Democrats than any one person I know in recent history.”
Rangel adds that Trump “is so frighting to every group of people. Just out of fear, people don’t want to wake up Wednesday morning and find out they did it to themselves.”
In 2008 and 2012, exit polls showed that African American turnout had reached its highest levels since 1968’s civil-rights era election. There had been some expectation that the number was bound to drop off as soon as Obama was no longer on the ballot, but pollsters report that isn’t necessarily happening.
“I would say that if it were just an enthusiasm for Hillary, that it would have had some impact, but equally important will be the desire to stop Donald Trump,” said William Frey, a demographer and fellow at the Brookings Institution.
Clinton won’t be fighting for black voters all by herself. With President Barack Obama behind her and her husband, former President Bill Clinton, still very popular in the African American community, Republican pollster Dan Judy said he’s warned down ballot candidates to expect equal African-American voter turnout for Clinton in 2016.
“Any Republican candidate who looks at their potential electorate and assumes that black turnout will be down from 2012, is making a mistake,” Judy told TPM.
Clinton’s primary performance in the South was another promising sign that Obama’s faithful African-American supporters don’t plan to stay home on election day.
Clinton won back many of the black voters in South Carolina who had voted against her eight years earlier, plus some. She won 86 percent of the African American vote, a greater share than President Obama. According to the Washington Post, she even mobilized an increase in African American turnout with 61 percent of blacks coming to the polls this year compared with 55 percent in 2008.
Democratic pollster Geoff Garin, a chief strategist for Clinton’s 2008 presidential campaign and a pollster for Priorities USA Action, the Super PAC supporting her, said the general election polls show even more promising signs for Clinton.
“I think a lot of African American voters see this in part as President Obama’s last election and can recognize his legacy is very much at stake in 2016,” Garin told TPM. “Usually at this stage in early, pre-election polls, the African American vote often lags anywhere up to 10 points of what it ends up being. In many states she is already performing at the kind of elevated level that President Obama received.”
Rep. Cummings said he’s “convinced” Clinton can hit Obama’s level of support from African Americans, arguing that many black voters see in Clinton a continuation of Obama’s legacy, something Clinton’s been careful to preserve as she’s resisted distancing herself from the President in the primary.
“What endeared African Americans to her was when she bowed out when she knew she wasn’t going to have the votes [in 2008] and she was so gracious and so supportive of the President and then when she accepted the opportunity to become secretary of state and was a loyal and very good secretary of state,” Cummings said. ” African-American people already liked the Clintons so that is a hell of a combination.”
Cummings also emphasized that Clinton’s candidacy is also seen by African American women as being just as historic as Obama’s was.
“Keep in mind that one of the strongest –if not the strongest–group of people within the Democratic Party are African American women when it comes to voting. And the idea that a woman is going to have this opportunity is major to them,” Cummings said.
Cummings said Trump’s inflamed rhetoric on immigration and references to “the blacks” is too troubling and stark a contrast not to mobilize African Americans for Clinton in November.
“Trump– not only for African Americans, but for many others– creates great concern because we don’t know where he is going,” Cummings said.