Black voters could swing US election – but what do they want?

The number of black Americans eligible to vote has spiked to 30 million and more than a third of them live in the key battleground states.

The enthusiasm this time is in stark contrast to 2016 when many black Americans stayed home.

There was a decline in turnout for the first time in 20 years after reaching a record high for Barack Obama’s re-election in 2012. More than a third of the 4.4 million Obama supporters that didn’t turnout in 2016 were black.

Pennsylvania is one key state where black voters could make all the difference after many didn’t turn out for Hillary Clinton in 2016.

In a state where Donald Trump won by fewer than 45,000 votes, they could be key in tipping the state back to the Democrats – whoever takes Pennsylvania will likely take the White House.

Are black votes up for grabs?

While black Americans have traditionally voted Democrat – this generalisation hides the fact there is still significant diversity in their choices. Black women remain the most loyal, but the ebb in support at the last election means the party has work to do to win other voters back.

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Mr Trump took 8% of the black vote in 2016 and some analysts expect him to increase that share this time.

Monique Campbell voted for Mr Trump last time but wishes she’d voted for Mrs Clinton. “He was for the people. I wanted to give Trump a chance. A lot of people aren’t happy with what he’s done.”

Monique Campbell
Image:Monique Campbell voted for Donald Trump in 2016

Monique was waiting to catch a bus to her job as a store security guard in Philadelphia.

With two children to care for, she doesn’t feel she’s better off than she was four years ago. “It’s got harder. Obamacare was pretty good – medical care you didn’t have to pay for. That was really good. I think Biden will be for the people…. with medicare and all that.”

Will black voters turn out this time?

While black voters are less likely to vote early – they have been turning out in their droves across the country. More senior black voters have cast their ballots in Texas than have ever voted in any election in the state’s history.

Joe Biden is at an advantage with the first black running mate on a presidential ticket in Kamala Harris. The backing of Mr Obama on the campaign trail is also helping to energise this constituency of important voters. But many of the votes could well be a protest vote against President Trump.

“I didn’t vote last time,” says one elderly black woman at the same bus stop in downtown Philadelphia. “I’m voting for Biden. A lot of people are voting that didn’t vote last time. We don’t want Donald Trump in there.”

What issues are on the ballot?

Black Americans are disproportionately affected by COVID-19. They are more than twice as likely to get it, five times more likely to be hospitalised, and twice as likely to die from coronavirus than white Americans.

For 35-year-old Unyke Williford the primary issue at this election is coronavirus. President Trump’s handling of the pandemic wins Mr Biden her vote.

Unyqe Williford
Image:Unyqe Williford says coronavirus is the main issue for her at this election

“I know for sure I’m voting for Biden because Trump doesn’t really have proper answers. And he thinks certain things are a joke like the coronavirus. I don’t think that’s a joke. I know some people that’s had it. I know some people that’s passed away from it. They’re finding more cases. Why is that? Because everybody thinks it’s a game and a joke when there’s really people out here dying.”

Healthcare is a major concern for black voters

Unyke was accompanied by her five-year-old daughter Trust – the youngest of her six children. Obamacare has made a big difference to her family. Mr Trump’s bid to overturn it is another big reason she’s voting for Biden.

Unyqe Williford and daughter talk to Sky's Sally Lockwood
Image:Unyqe Williford and daughter Trust talk to Sky correspondent Sally Lockwood in Philadelphia

“I can take my kids to the doctors and get the proper treatment they need without spending so much money,” she explains. “If you go to a doctors just for a visit you pay $55 just to sign your name on a piece of paper – not even to be seen. So yes it does help a lot especially when you have a child with asthma. Who can afford every month $90 in medication? Everybody don’t have that especially if you have a car, house, gas, electric, water. You can’t do that. You’re already struggling.”

Job insecurity has risen during the pandemic

While job loss has been universal during the pandemic, it has been particularly devastating for black workers who are twice as likely to have lost their job. They were already more likely to have lower paid jobs with far less savings to fall back on. Their economic and job insecurity has been magnified in the pandemic.

Trena Bell had to take unpaid time off work after she tested positive for COVID-19. More job security and more jobs in general are the biggest issue for her.

Trena Bell
Image:Trena Bell is most concerned about job security

“We need help school districts, more jobs and organisations to help the community. We just need help, help, help, help, all over the place. There’s just so many things. We really need help.”

Many black voters want greater equality

For Walt who works in education and social work – he wants equal opportunity for his three children.

“Barack Obama, he made the White House, for the first time, fun to a lot of American people. I think Joe Biden is going to take from Obama and make it fun again,” he says.

Image:Walt wants his children to live the American dream

“The policies that matter most to me is reform for the black communities. Like us being able to own our own communities. That’s one thing we don’t do. In African American communities we don’t own a lot of the businesses. I’m very big on those reforms for the black communities – making sure that my children, just like any other child, has the right to live the American dream.”

Racial injustice is a key issue at this election

Romario De Four, 23, is a first-time voter and works as a restaurant server in Chicago. He’s voting Biden because he feels Donald Trump has made it harder to have his skin colour.

“I feel it,” he says. “The way he says things. He seems very on the fence. For instance, in the first presidential debate when they asked him if he’d condemn white supremacy, he’s like ‘I can condemn whatever you just said’ so he’s not fully stating it. Which is very clever.”

Romario De Four is most concerned about racial injustice
Image:Romario De Four is most concerned about racial injustice

Romario says a video that went viral in May of a woman calling the police in New York’s Central Park after a black man told her to put her dog on a lead had a real impact on him.

“After watching that video, I used to walk to the park every morning during quarantine. I realised that I became very super-aware. If someone was walking their dog, I was very super attentive to what was going on around me with that in mind. You don’t know what people are thinking a lot of the time.”

He describes how his mum worries that he’s grown his hair recently so you can now see his afro curls which you couldn’t when his hair was short.

“My mum hates it. She says it’s not very professional. I understand what she means. It’s something you shouldn’t have to worry about, the way my hair looks, but she tells me things like ‘if you get pulled over make sure your hands are on the wheel’. Just small things like that that I probably shouldn’t be worried about. I just don’t think President Trump is the person for my future.”

Sky News US election coverage

Mark Gibson

Graduates in Northwestern University, Evanston, Illinois 1990. Move to Los Angeles California in 2004. Specialized in Internet journalism.

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