Donald Trump promised recently that if he became president, African-Americans would vote for his reelection by 95 percent. Considering that no Republican has ever gotten more than 15 percent of the African-American vote since the passage of the Voting Rights Act in 1965, that seems a little rosy. Even his own running mate, Mike Pence, laughed at the concept when it came up during a Fox News interview with Ainsley Earhardt.
Trump's pitch to African-American voters was memorable in its terribleness. On Aug. 19, in the (mostly white) town of Dimondale, Michigan, he said:
What do you have to lose? You're living in poverty. Your schools are no good. You have no jobs. 58 percent of your youth is unemployed. What the hell do you have to lose?
But conservatives have claimed that even if Trump's message to African-American voters is condescending, they should give up on their longstanding support for the Democrats. In the eyes of many Republicans, Democratic policies haven't been good enough to the African-American community to earn their overwhelming support. African-American labor force participation has decreased under Barack Obama, and Democrats hold mayorships in nearly all the major cities that have high crime rates in African-American communities, such as Rahm Emmanuel in Chicago and Dana Redd in Camden, New Jersey.
But despite all these claims, Trump's support among African-American voters hasn't gotten any better. A recent poll from Public Policy Polling found that 97 percent of African-Americans dislike Trump, with none having a favorable view. The poll also provided some useful (well, silly at least) comparisons of Trump's popularity"
The problem for Trump is bigger than his rhetoric. The Republican Party has failed to account for the reason that African-American voters so overwhelmingly vote against them. African-American voters don't support the Democratic Party. African-American voters control the Democratic Party.
In this year's Democratic primaries, 25 percent of voters were African-American, an increase even from the 19 percent in 2008, when Obama's run raised turnout from that demographic. Those voters voted overwhelmingly for Hillary Clinton (at 77 percent), whereas white voters supported Bernie Sanders 50-48. The only issue on which Clinton explicitly ran to Sanders's left was gun control, an issue that has much more support from African-American than white voters. The version of the Democratic Party that won the election was the one chosen by black voters.
While the Republican Party has argued that African Americans should vote for them, they have still yet to meet the African-American community where they are — the party has not endorsed policies that the African-American community asks for, like police reform or raising the minimum wage. Politicians reflect the will of the people. In a speech to the DNC in 2004, Reverend Al Sharpton explained his view on the two parties clearly:
We got the Civil Rights Act under a Democrat. We got the Voting Rights Act under a Democrat. We got the right to organize under Democrats. [...] Our right to vote wasn't gained because of our age. Our vote was soaked in the blood of martyrs, soaked in the blood of good men, soaked in the blood of four little girls in Birmingham. This vote is sacred to us. This vote can't be bargained away.
There will surely come a future Republican who figures out how to appeal to African-American voters. But as long as they continue to seem tone-deaf toward what the majority of African-Americans want from government, they will have difficulty making any headway.