African American voter perspective on voting, vote by mail, and the current national races

On behalf of VPC, The African American Research Collaborative implemented a battleground state poll of 1,310 African Americans in Florida, Georgia, Michigan, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Texas. The blended phone and online poll ran from August 8 to 14. Respondents are comprised mainly of registered voters (85%) with some eligible to vote, but not yet registered (15%). The margin of error for the full sample is +/-2.7 and for each state is +/-6.6.

This election for African Americans is about responding to racism (including but not limited to criminal justice reform), Coronavirus and Trump. Secondary, but important issues include lowering the cost of health care and addressing unemployment/wages.

Contradictory Views
When considering vote by mail, African Americans hold two strong views that are potentially contradictory in the current context. They have low levels of trust for or confidence in voting by mail generally (28% lack confidence) and the level of distrust goes up for individual steps in the vote by mail process with 41% having little or no trust their vote will be opened and counted using VBM. At the same time, over three-quarters (78%) are concerned that they might be exposed to Coronavirus at their polling place. In combination, this leads to a 50/50 split in which half of African Americans would prefer to vote in person and half would prefer to vote by mail. 

Vote By Mail Choice
To address the split thinking among African Americans around vote by mail, frame vote by mail as a “Choice” that should not be denied. When framed as a choice, Black voters overwhelmingly support the idea that no one should “deny me the right to vote by mail if I so choose” (90%) and would like to be sent information on vote by mail so they can make that choice (87%). 

More Information Needed
African Americans do not have high knowledge on how to vote by mail and would like more information. Over one-third of African Americans acknowledge that they do not have enough information from their state to know how to vote by mail. But this likely underestimates lack of knowledge: 49% of Black Texans believe everyone can vote by mail in the state, even though it has some of the toughest restrictions (65+, disabled, in jail or out of county on election day to vote by mail) and the state’s Attorney General has indicated he will enforce these through criminal prosecution. 

Cultural and Historic
Voting has cultural and historic implications for African Americans. A tested pro-civil rights voting message (quote from John Lewis’s final letter) resulted in 52% of respondents indicating it would make them much more likely to vote (though this was less popular with 18-29 year olds of whom only 30% indicated it would make them much more likely to vote and 22% indicated it would make them somewhat less likely to vote). 

71% of respondents felt voting in person was important because it makes a statement about “our right to vote” because of historic denial of the vote to Black people. Reticence in the Black community to vote by mail is based in facts – both historic and current events. Respondents had higher distrust for elections officials in Texas, Georgia, and North Carolina, three states with both historic de jure disenfranchisement of Black citizens and quite recent public attacks on the Black vote. 

Kamala Harris
Because we were polling an equal number of days before and after Biden’s announcement of Harris as his running mate, we can split the data by interview date (before and after the morning of August 11th). We found net +11 on vote choice for Biden over Trump after she was chosen. Those under 40 especially say her selection makes them somewhat or much more likely to vote (82%). 

Friends and Family
Based on prior research indicating that Black voters often encourage others to vote, we tested several messages meant to get people to convince their friends and family to vote. An overwhelming number responded that information about vote by mail (88%), policy differences between Trump and Biden (89%) and down ballot elections (89%) would be helpful to their efforts to encourage others to vote. Information on Trump’s COVID-19 response failing to protect Black people and jobs (83%) and Trump’s disrespect for Black women (77%) also tested well.