Biden, Trump campaigns zero in on Michigan’s Black voters

In another tight statewide race, the margins may be more critical than ever


As a politically active Black woman, Lori Adams Simon is among a voting block that President Joe Biden will again depend heavily on in his effort to win Michigan in November.

Lori Adams Simon
Lori Adams Simon

Adams Simon, 55, president of a consulting firm on diversity, equity and inclusion, last voted for a Republican in her first election after turning 18. She described herself as a “heavy supporter” of the Democratic Party since then. Her biography includes serving as chief of staff to a former Democratic state legislator. She intends to vote for Biden this fall.

However, Adams Simon also believes the party could be doing more to retain the historical loyalty it has seen from Black voters.

“President Biden has long been dependent on Black voters — first as a senator and then most notably in the 2020 South Carolina primary,” she said. “As a Black woman, I don’t feel my vote should be taken for granted. The Black community has a long history of supporting Democrats without effort, and I think that’s the strategy they have to change. They have to start making a concerted effort to have our votes.”

Retaining support from Black Michigan voters like Adams Simon will be crucial for Biden if he hopes to capture Michigan’s 15 electoral votes this fall — the 10th most among all 50 states. Michigan is a winner-take-all state in the Electoral College. It is part of the Blue Wall — Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, and Michigan — that Trump tore down in 2016 to beat Hillary Clinton in an Electoral College victory despite his defeat in the popular vote.

Biden took Michigan back for the Democrats by 50.62%, or 154,188 votes, in 2020. Of Michigan’s Black voters, who cast 12% of the state’s total ballots, 92% supported Biden and 7% backed Trump.

The 2024 race may be even closer than it was four years ago.’s polling averages Tuesday showed that Michigan voters now favor Biden at 42% to Trump’s 41.8%. Trump has led those compiled scores between March 1 and June 19, with a five-point lead in March turning into an advantage of just one point or less since early May.

To carry that advantage to victory in November, Biden will have to replicate the historical boost Democratic presidential candidates have gained from the Black electorate. Based on exit polls dating back to the 1964 election, no Republican presidential candidate has ever earned more than 12% of the Black vote, and according to the Pew Research Center, “roughly eight in ten or more Black men and women have consistently identified with the Democratic Party since 1994.”

Michigan State University political science Professor Matt Grossman said that trend has been reliably consistent since the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s.

Matt Grossman
Matt Grossman

“A starting point to keep in mind is that Democrats tend to win an incredibly high proportion of African American voters despite those voters’ having a range of opinions and identifications,” Grossman explained.

Voting for Democrats has become an established “social convention” within the Black community, Grossman theorized.

“Black voters are used to voting Democrat, they’re used to other Black voters and family members voting Democrat, and it can be embarrassing and unconventional to vote Republican in African American communities,” Grossman said. “What typically happens is that, within the social group, the norm is developed and enforced, such that, by the end of the campaign, you have very high support for Democratic candidates.”

Grossman noted that “swing African American voters” — a population that’s difficult to quantify — “are way more conservative than people think.” Still, he said that social norms often keep the Democratic margins high among Black voters come election day.

“When political views are discussed surrounded by other Black people, you tend to get higher levels of Democratic support,” he said. “Even in experiments, if people are assigned to rooms in which they’re encountering other African Americans rather than whites, they’re more likely to side with the group norms. So, I would say that’s probably the consensus at the moment.”

He cited that trend as one reason Republicans have struggled to gain a foothold when it comes to the Black electorate, even if many of those voters lean conservative on specific issues.

“Those basic patterns mean that the openings for Republican support usually come from African Americans who either reside or live in some social context outside of predominantly African American communities,” Grossman explained.

Nationally, 92% of Black voters opted for Biden in 2020, including 95% of Black women and 88% of Black men. In recent months, the media has swelled with stories suggesting that Biden’s formidable advantage with Black voters could diminish slightly this November. If that happens, it could be a critical factor in deciding the outcome, especially in pivotal swing states like Michigan.

While Grossman acknowledged that possibility, he said it may still be too early to form any firm conclusions on the latest polls.

“Current polls are showing substantially more than usual Republican support among Black voters and substantially lower Democratic support than usual,” he said. “That doesn’t mean it will materialize on election day, but if you believe the polls at the moment, it would be a historic movement in a Republican direction. Most people think that that change is likely to moderate over time.”

Both candidates have recently traveled to Michigan to court its African American voters. Biden’s last visit came on May 19, when he spoke at the Detroit NAACP’s Fight For Freedom Fund Dinner, while Trump appeared at the primarily Black 180 Church in Detroit on June 15.

A recent poll conducted by USA TODAY and Suffolk University, based on interviews with 500 randomly selected Black voters in Michigan between June 9 and 13, indicated that 54% supported Biden and 15% supported Trump.

An additional 15% identified as undecided, 8% supported Robert Kennedy Jr., 6% supported independent Cornel West and 1% supported Green Party nominee Jill Stein. Notably, 45% of those who backed a third-party candidate listed Biden as their second choice.

That poll also bolstered the theory that there’s a growing divide regarding how subsections of the Black electorate intend to vote this November. While just 9% of Black women who participated in the poll said they planned on voting for Trump, that number spiked to 22% among participating Black males.

Age is another factor, with 19% of Black voters between 18 to 34 citing Trump as their pick. Biden drew 42%, while 22% supported a third-party candidate.

However, Grossman said younger voters’ intentions can be more difficult to forecast than their older counterparts’.

“Young people tend to switch back and forth more often. That just means that when we have a national trend, it can be more pronounced among young voters than others,” Grossman said.

One theory on why younger Black voters in particular appear to be more reluctant to follow historical trends again ties back to a need to bridge the connection between the birth of the Black Democratic majority in the 1960s to the present day.

“Democrats have to consistently win over people who don’t really agree with them but who are also attached to the party on the basis of a shared group identity. That has to be reinforced in each generation, so you can imagine it sort of losing steam over time,” Grossman said.

A May 20 Pew Research Center report supported this theory, stating that “younger Black voters have tended to be more Republican than older Black voters over the last 25 years,” and that “younger Black voters are more likely than older Black voters to say they would vote for Trump.”

One such voter is Daylen Howard, a 29-year-old Owosso resident who ran as the Republican candidate for Michigan’s District 28 seat in 2022 and lost to Sen. Sam Singh.

Daylen Howard
Daylen Howard

“Most people are sick and tired of saying, ‘Well, yes, I am this color, but I vote just like my neighbor.’ I just think we’re at a point where they are constantly separating and dividing us into different groups, and that gets tiring,” Howard said.

Of course, Black youth voters are also privy to trends that extend beyond their racial and political backgrounds. Adams Simon believes the widespread dissatisfaction over Biden’s handling of the Israeli War will surely play a role in the youth turnout.

Linda Tarver is a Lansing resident and Black Republican activist who formerly served as the president of the Republican Women’s Federation of Michigan and as a co-chair of the Black Voters for Trump campaign ahead of the 2016 election season.

Linda Tarver
Linda Tarver

She said it’s no longer the case that Black voters are “monolithic.”

“It was true that we used to vote one way, but it isn’t any longer,” she said.

“For the longest time, we were the last group that the Democrat Party could count on without any questions asked,” she added. “And that’s what their fatal flaw was — they felt they didn’t have to cater to our vote or even fulfill their promises because they knew they could count on the Black vote.”

Tarver believes contemporary Black voters are concerned with a variety of issues that she said aren’t being properly addressed under the Biden administration. These include the economy, criminal justice reform and immigration, she said. 

“The people who voted for Democrats, especially Black voters, are looking at Biden and saying that they’re not getting what they voted for,” Tarver said. “So, Black voters who want to continue to vote Democrat may sit this one out because they don’t see Biden as a viable candidate. They’re not blind to the economy and how they’re feeling about the lack of justice.”

State Rep. Felicia Brabec, D-Pittsfield, countered Tarver, asserting that the Biden administration has “followed through” when it comes to addressing the needs of Black voters.

Members of the primarily Black 180 church in Detroit react to comments from former President Donald Trump during a recent roundtable.
Members of the primarily Black 180 church in Detroit react to comments from former President Donald Trump during a recent roundtable.

“Whether it’s addressing health care issues for Black Americans or taking a look at Black wealth, we have seen through policies that those conversations are translating to action,” Brabec said.

Tarver remained skeptical, adding that she also believes Trump’s recent conviction on 34 felony counts in New York will play a role in attracting more Black voters to his side, particularly Black men.

“Now that he’s a convicted felon, he will definitely be able to bring people in and say: ‘Look, unjust prosecution is a real thing,’” she said.

Howard agreed.

“Anyone who has ever felt that they’ve been disserviced by our justice system now has a way to identify with Trump regardless of their political beliefs,” he said. “I think that’s a factor could help him gain, rather than lose, support from minority voters.”

A poll released June 5 by The New York Times and Siena College suggested otherwise. While the survey’s 2,000 respondents favored Trump by 3% in April and May, he led by just 1% when the same group was contacted following his conviction. Nearly a quarter of minority-identifying respondents who stated they voted for Biden in 2020 and also said they would vote for Trump before his conviction said they had since returned to Biden.

Tarver echoed Grossman’s suggestion that Black swing voters are more conservative than many may expect.

“Some Democrats privately agree with me, but they won’t go against their party publicly, because they would be crucified. These fear tactics keep Black people on the Democratic plantation,” Tarver said.

With that said, when considered together, polls and historical trends make it clear that Biden won’t be losing a significant total of the Black voters he courted in Michigan and elsewhere in 2020. A more pressing question is whether the Black voter turnout will come close to what it has been in the past few presidential cycles.

Nationally, Black voters turned out in record numbers during Barack Obama’s tenure — at 60.8% in 2008 and 62% in 2012. Those figures dipped to 55.9% in 2016 and 58.7% in 2020 but were still higher than the historical average.

Felicia Barbec
Felicia Barbec

Mark Grebner, a Democratic Ingham County commissioner and established expert on voting habits statewide, said economic factors are an important consideration when it comes to forecasting turnout.

“The non-voter is a person who’s dealing with problems in their personal life. They may be surrounded by dysfunction and may not have any credit. There’s a lot going on for them, and voting is just not in their mind,” Grebner said.

If either party wants to secure an advantage with Black voters and other groups, Grebner said they’ll need to convince more of those non-voters to weigh in. He noted that the key isn’t to target individual voters, but rather to “expand the number of voters per household.”

“The Black community is full of stable, competent and self-possessed people who have in many cases lived in very difficult circumstances but have gotten through it,” Grebner explained. “They’re mostly, but not all, women, many of whom are consistent voters who are churchgoing and have roots in the Civil Rights community. The Democratic Party sort of depends on them.”

Often, he said, Democrats work especially hard to retain these habitually engaged voters in election years, which he said “is not what’s needed.”

Mark Grebner
Mark Grebner

“What’s really needed is for those people to help the Democrats turn out those additional, different one or two voters in each of those households,” Grebner said.

At any rate, he added: “The number of Black people who are actually going to vote for Trump is very small.”

“It isn’t really an issue. There are small currents within the Black community of support for Republicans who have always been there, and those currents are kind of consistent,” he said.

With just four months left till Nov. 5, Adams Simon said she hopes to see Democrats mount a more concerted effort to connect with Black voters

“With any candidate for office, you can’t just continue to do the same thing and expect the Black community to show up for you,” she said. “You’re going to have to approach the Black community in a different way and literally make that effort to reach them in their own spaces to ask for their vote.”


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