Black Opinions & Voting Behavior
Background & Summary
The Center for Urban Renewal and Education (CURE) advances a mission of fighting poverty and restoring dignity through messages of faith, freedom and personal responsibility.
There is value in understanding the attitudes and political behavior of our major target
population – black Americans – so we best know how to present and advance this agenda
with this population. This is also a topic of interest to many Americans that can help
inform public debate and policy solutions.
In this policy briefing, we provide an overview of black voting behavior in presidential
elections over 84 years, from 1936 to 2020. We also analyze recent polling data to gain
insight into what opinions and attitudes may be driving the political/voting behavior of
As the Party of Abraham Lincoln, Republicans allied with black Americans in the wake of
the Civil War to pass the 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments to the Constitution – abolishing
slavery; granting citizenship and civil rights to emancipated black Americans;
and guaranteeing that the right to vote could not be denied based on “race, color, or
previous condition of servitude.”
White Democrats in the South disenfranchised many blacks during the 1870s, 1880s and
1890s with poll taxes and other irregular practices. Democrat President Woodrow Wilson subsequently initiated segregation in the federal government and in Washington,
D.C. after his 1912 election. Accordingly, blacks largely voted for Republican presidential
candidates through the 1932 election.
Following the Great Depression and enactment of Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s (FDR) New
Deal, FDR garnered strong black support in the 1936 election and blacks have voted for
the Democrat presidential candidate in every subsequent election. In 1964, Republican
presidential candidate Barry Goldwater opposed the Civil Rights Act and black American
support for Democrat candidates became much more pronounced.
There have been 14 presidential elections since 1964. This policy briefing examines the
differences in black voting behavior in the 1964 to 2020 elections from the 1936 to 1960
period. We ultimately look at where this situation stands today and what factors might
have an impact in the future.
Key observations from the polling data presented below are:
- Black Democrats are ideologically atypical of overall Democrat voters in that blacks self-identify as less liberal on certain issues.
- On matters related to faith, religion, and morality, black Democrats poll more like white Republicans or Independents than they do white Democrats.
- On matters concerning perceived fairness and inequality and perceived racism, and sympathies for large, activist government, blacks poll more closely with Democrats.
It seems reasonable to surmise that black concerns regarding fairness and inequality, and
their inclination to believe that government is the means by which these problems can
be solved, define black political behavior more than religious values.
This presents an additional question that merits consideration going forward. Why do
black Americans feel so strongly that government is the means for addressing fairness
We offer one hypothesis here.
Other major changes were taking place in the country when the Civil Rights Act was
enacted in the 1960s. At the same time, there was a surge in support for activist government. Along with civil rights, President Johnson championed the “Great Society.”
This period brought forth Medicare, Medicaid, government housing and welfare programs
as part of the War on Poverty.
Government transfer payments as a percentage of the federal budget increased from
35% in the late 1960s to 70% in 2020.
Because the achievements of the civil rights movement were defined by political activism, it might be reasonable to conclude that perceived benefits of political activism and
government solutions in all areas of American life had a disproportionate impact on the
attitudes of black Americans.
Presidential Elections 1936–2020: The Black Vote
Black Americans have been a stalwart voting bloc for the Democrat Party over the last
century. However, in 1964, the year in which the Civil Rights Act passed into the law, the character of this support changed dramatically, with black support for Democrats sharply
increasing. This reality has remained consistent until now.
In seven presidential elections from 1936 to 1960, the average percentage of the black vote
for the Democrat presidential candidate was 70%. Average support for Republicans was
30%. Black support for the Republican candidate reached a peak in 1956 when Eisenhower
received 39% of the black vote.
This picture changed dramatically in 1964. The Democrat candidate in 1964, Lyndon
Johnson, received 94% of the black vote and the Republican candidate Barry Goldwater received 6%.
From 1964 to 2020, the average percentage of the black vote for the Democrat candidate
was 88%, eighteen points higher than the average from 1936 to 1960. The average vote
for the Republican candidate in this more current period has been 10%, 20 points less
than the 1936-1960 average. Black support for the Democrat candidate peaked in 2008
when President Barack Obama received 95% of the black vote and Republican John
McCain received 4%.
On the night after Obama’s election (November 5, 2008), Gallup Poll daily tracking found
that 71% of American voters – including 61% of McCain voters – viewed his election as
one of the most important advances for black Americans in the past 100 years.
In a November 7, 2008 analysis of the poll’s findings (“Americans See Obama Election as
Race Relations Milestone”), Gallup Senior Scientist Frank Newport further noted that
67% of Americans “say a solution to relations between blacks and whites will eventually
be worked out, the highest value Gallup has measured of this question.” However, in a
June 17, 2020 article (“American Attitudes and Race”) Newport said, “by the end of his
[Obama’s] administration, attitudes on race had soured rather than improved.”
How America Has Changed Since 1964
Certainly, the watershed event of 1964 was the passage of the Civil Rights Act.
The support of President Lyndon Johnson for the Civil Rights movement, coupled with
the opposition of Republican presidential candidate Senator Barry Goldwater to the 1964 Civil Rights Act, drove the most pronounced support of black voters for the Democratic
Party candidate in history.
However, that was more than half a century ago. What else has happened that has
The presidency of Lyndon Johnson was defined by civil rights but was also defined by
the beginning of a new era of big government. Johnson called it the Great Society.
The chart below shows that from 1970 until 2020, the percentage of the federal budget
consisting of transfer payments – funds moving from taxpayers to other private citizens
by way of various government programs – doubled. It went from 35% of the federal budget
in 1970 to 70% in 2020.
This is another factor to keep in mind in considering the major shift in black voting for
the Democrat Party since the 1960s.
How American Blacks Ideologically Compare with the
According to 2021 Gallup polling, the U.S. breaks down ideologically as follows:
Whereas one of every two Democrats is liberal, only slightly more than one of every
four blacks is liberal.
Liberalism seems to define, on average, Democrat Party voters. But black voters do not
fit comfortably into this mold.
96% of Republicans are either conservative or moderate. 49% of Democrats are either
conservative or moderate. 71% of blacks are either conservative or moderate.
Ideologically, blacks fall between Republican and Democrat averages. Yet, black voting
is almost 90% aligned with Democrats.
Other Factors Defining Black Voters
Church & Politics
More than any other ethnic group, black Protestants support church/clergy involvement
Religion & Morality
Is belief in God necessary to be moral? “Yes”
Pew Research 2019
Democrats/Lean Democrat 26%
Republicans/Lean Republican 46%
CONCLUSION: Blacks exceed Democrats (more than twice as many) and Republicans in their conviction that belief in God drives moral behavior.
Legalizing same-sex marriage has been a very/somewhat good thing
for U.S. society. “Yes”
Pew Research 2019
White Democrats 88%
Black Democrats 52%
CONCLUSION: Black Democrats more closely resemble Republicans than they do
white Democrats regarding same-sex marriage.
Church Attendance Monthly or More
Pew Research 2019
White Democrats 29%
Black Democrats 61%
CONCLUSION: Black Democrats exceed white Democrats (more than twice as many)
and even white Republicans in monthly church attendance.
U.S. is Divided into Have/Have-Nots – “Yes”
Self-Identification as Have/Have-Not
CONCLUSION: Blacks are more likely than Democrats and much more likely than
Republicans and Hispanics to believe that the U.S. is divided into Haves and Have-Nots.
While more than a third of blacks (37%) nonetheless view themselves as Haves (slightly
more than Hispanics in this self-identification), a strong majority of Hispanics (61%)
do not believe the U.S. is divided into Haves and Have-Nots.
Racism & Civil Rights
Racism against black people is widespread in the U.S. today. “Yes”
Civil rights for black people have improved in my lifetime. “Yes”
CONCLUSION: Blacks are much more aligned with Democrats in believing that
racism is widespread in the U.S. today. However, the partisan and racial differences
are fairly modest – and the views more positive – about long-term progress that has
been made on civil rights for black people.
Educational & Job Opportunities
Black people have an equal chance to get a job for which they are qualified. “Yes”
A person in the U.S. has an opportunity to get ahead by working hard.
Black children have an equal chance to get a good education. “Yes”
Parents should be able to designate tax dollars to send their child to
the public or private school of their choice. “Yes”
RealClear Opinion Research, February 2022
CONCLUSION: Black Americans have a much more negative view than white people
about opportunities in key areas of their lives, with only half as many believing they
have an equal chance to get a job for which they are qualified. This feeling does not
seem to be driven by an individual’s income level, as the Gallup data suggests that
upper, middle, and low-income Americans have virtually identical views about their
opportunity to get ahead by working hard.
The killing of George Floyd and other highly publicized and racially charged incidents
seem to have reinforced the view of many black Americans that they are not treated
fairly and the deck is stacked against them. Black and white Americans are nearly
identical in their view that parents should have the opportunity to send their children
to the school of their choice, but a clear majority of blacks do not believe their children
have an equal chance to get a good education.
Role of Government
Government should do more to solve problems. “Yes”
Pew Research 2019
Dem/Lean Dem 74%
Rep/Lean Rep 28%
CONCLUSION: Blacks and Democrats are equally aligned in believing that government should do more to solve problems. Most Republicans have a starkly different
view about the proper role of government.
In 1956, President Dwight Eisenhower attained a post-New Deal high of 39% of the black
vote after abolishing segregation in the military, integrating Washington, D.C., and hiring
more black Americans in the Foreign Service than ever before. Richard Nixon was able
to garner 32 percent of the black vote in his razor-thin loss to John F. Kennedy in 1960,
but Republican support plunged to 6 percent in 1964 with Barry Goldwater’s opposition
to the Civil Rights Act.
Under President Donald Trump, black Americans saw real median income grow by 7.9
percent in 2019 – a record one-year increase that brought the black income level to a new
high. The black poverty rate fell by 2 percentage points to a record low. The COVID-19
pandemic disrupted this progress in 2020 and another tragic event took a toll on Trump’s
standing with blacks and many other Americans – the death of George Floyd and the
public perception that Trump made racial tensions worse after Floyd was killed.
During the first five months of 2020, Trump attained the highest job approval ratings of
his presidency – 49 percent in five different January – May Gallup tracking polls. Following
Floyd’s death on May 25, Trump’s approval dropped by 10 points in the next Gallup poll
and to 38 percent in a June poll.
In an early June 2020 NPR/PBS News Hour/Marist poll, 67% said Trump had mostly
increased racial tensions – including 88% of African Americans, 73% of Independents
and 63% of whites.
In 2021, Virginia Republicans won all three statewide offices – Governor, Lieutenant Governor and Attorney General – in a state Trump lost by 10 points in 2020. While Trump
garnered 12% of the black vote nationally in 2020, he only carried 10 percent of the black
vote in Virginia. Gov. Glenn Youngkin and Attorney General Jason Miyares each garnered
13 percent of the black vote, while Lieutenant Gov. Winsome Sears – a black woman –
won 16 percent.
One state is a small sample but the modest gains in the black vote attained by Youngkin
and Miyares are another indicator that Republicans have a long way to go in gaining
substantial support from black voters. However, the Gallup and NPR/PBS/Marist polling
done in the aftermath of George Floyd’s death seems to suggest that white voters also
react adversely if they believe blacks are being treated unfairly or that a political figure is
contributing to an increase in racial tensions. Conversely, that dynamic may have been
a factor in the Virginia Republican candidates performing better than Trump among
white suburban voters.
Following the controversy about the 2020 presidential election result, Republican governors and legislators have moved to enact election integrity measures in their states –
arguing that they’re trying to make it easier to vote but harder to cheat. President Biden,
Democrats in Congress and their political allies have branded these efforts as “Jim Crow
2.0.” They have fought fiercely against the Republican measures at the state level and have
tried to pass national legislation that would override all of these state laws.
Democrat opposition to Republican election law efforts – and some other proposed
policies — seeks to reinforce the perception among many black voters and others that
Republicans are insensitive to black concerns about inequality. Republicans may make
some gains among black voters if they can convince them that their economic and educational choice policies provide better opportunities for blacks to get ahead, and that
support for the police will help to reduce crime in black communities. However, broader
support will only be attained if black voters are convinced that Republican candidates
genuinely understand their concerns about inequality and are committed to working
with them to overcome obstacles to long-term success.
Star Parker, Founder & President
CURE was founded by Star Parker in 1995. Parker holds a bachelor’s degree in Marketing and International Business from Woodbury University and has received numerous awards and commendations for her work on public policy issues. In 2016, CPAC honored her as the “Ronald Reagan Foot Soldier of the Year.” In 2017, Star was the recipient of the Groundswell Impact award, and in 2018, Bott Radio Network presented Star with its annual Queen Esther award.
Serving on the National Religious Broadcasters Board of Directors and the Board of Directors at the Leadership Institute, Star is active in helping other organizations that impact the culture, particularly for younger generations. To date, Star has spoken on more than 225 college campuses, including Harvard, Berkeley, Emory, Liberty, Franciscan, UCLA, and the University of Virginia.
Marty Dannenfelser, Vice President For Government Relations and Coalitions
Marty Dannenfelser is Vice President For Government Relations and Coalitions for CURE. He tracks proposals from the White House, executive branch agencies, Capitol Hill, and the policy community—particularly as they relate to culture, race, and poverty—and shares CURE’s ideas on free markets, religious freedom, personal responsibility, and other policy matters.
Dannenfelser previously served as the presidentially appointed Staff Director of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, and as Senior Policy Advisor at the White House Office of Public Liaison. He has served in senior policy, government relations, and external relations positions with the Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Energy. Dannenfelser has also served as Senior Policy Advisor and Coalitions Director for the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, and as Legislative Director for a Member of Congress.