Kanye’s bid and the black vote

On July 4, Kanye West announced a quixotic
quest for the presidency. Filing deadlines for independent candidates have
already passed in five states and will do so in 10 more by the end of July. He
has yet to file the necessary papers with the Federal Election Commission.

In discussing his possible run, West
indicated that he was offended by Joe Biden’s late-May comment to a morning
radio show with a large black audience, “If you
have a problem figuring out whether you’re for me or Trump, then you ain’t
black.” Biden later said he shouldn’t have been such a “wise guy,” indicating
that he wasn’t taking the black vote for granted. West has also grown
disenchanted with Donald Trump since expressing support for him in 2018.

A man stands with a shirt supporting rapper Kanye West for American president, in Tapachula, Chiapas state, Mexico April 11, 2019. REUTERS/Jose Cabezas

Support for Biden is high in the black community, just as it has been for all other recent Democratic presidential candidates. The black vote is one of the few monolithic votes in American politics, with more than 80 percent going to the Democratic presidential candidates in every presidential election in the modern era, since 1972. Identification with the Democratic Party in the black community is likewise high and stable and has been so for decades. In June, the Pew Research Center released a new report on partisan identification over the past 25 years. In their latest survey which uses cumulative data from 2018 and 2019, 83 percent of blacks surveyed were Democrats or leaned to the Democratic Party. Twenty-five years ago in 1994, 81 percent did.

In recent polls, Biden has been drawing the lion’s share of the black vote. In a mid-June Ipsos/Washington Post poll, Biden led Trump by 92 to 5 percent among black registered voters. The Post report on the poll noted that despite the overwhelming support Biden enjoys, he “faces clear challenges in mobilizing younger black adults.” The report went on to say that younger blacks are less enthusiastic about voting and more critical of Trump, something that may have spurred the putative West candidacy. It is also true in Pew’s data that black registered Millennials are more likely than in the past to identify as independents. In Pew’s 2009 data, 34 percent did; in the new 2018/2019 data, 43 percent do.

In contrast to other racial and ethnic groups, the black share of the population is not growing significantly. As Bill Frey of Brookings pointed out in a recent column about the Census’s new racial and ethnic population estimates, “the black share of the population has remained relatively constant” over the past 40 years. In 1980, he says, it was 11.5 percent; in the new Census report, it is 12.5. Meanwhile, the Hispanic and Asian shares are growing sharply. Unlike the stable political identification of blacks in Pew’s data, Hispanics and Asians have become more Democratic. In 1994, 53 percent of English-speaking Asians identified as Democrats; in the 2018-2019 Pew data, 72 percent did. For Hispanics, identification with Democrats rose six points, from 57 to 63 percent in the Pew surveys. 

It’s anyone’s guess about how serious West is about his late bid for the presidency. In the meantime, Biden’s commanding share of the black vote seems solid, despite the lack of enthusiasm among younger blacks.