UW News

March 14, 2018

Could anti-Trump sentiment mobilize African-American voters in 2018?

UW News

African-American voters who dislike and feel threatened by Donald Trump and his presidency are much more likely to vote and to engage with politics, according to new research from California State University, Sacramento, and the University of Washington.

The findings, the researchers say, indicate sentiment against Trump and his policies creates an opportunity for African-American mobilization as the country heads toward the 2018 midterm elections.

“Our findings suggest that political strategies that highlight the racially regressive politics of Trump and reactionary conservatives may serve as a powerful motivating force,” said lead author Christopher Towler of California State University, Sacramento.

In a paper published Feb. 27 in the Journal of Race, Ethnicity, and Politics, Towler and Christopher Parker, UW professor of political science, used information from the 2016 Black Voter Project Pilot Study — an ongoing project overseen by Towler — to examine African-American political engagement in the post-Obama environment. This study consisted of 511 responses from African-Americans located in six battleground states with significant black constituencies.

The researchers found that:

  • Black voters who “strongly disapprove” of Trump are 30 percent more likely to have voted in 2016 than those with no opinion of Trump.
  • Black voters who strongly disapprove of Trump were more than 40 percent more likely “to express confidence in their 2018 midterm participation” than those with no opinion of Trump.

The respondents also were asked if they believe President Trump is “destroying the country.” Those who agreed tended to be much more politically active and interested than those with no opinion on Trump, and more likely to participate in “four or more political acts beyond voting, such as calling their representative or donating to a political cause.”

The researchers also found that black voters holding negative opinions of Trump in 2016 voted at rates similar to the high turnout of 2008 that sent Obama to the White House.

“It might be time for progressive politicians and party leaders who depend upon African-American political engagement for success to take note, and potentially shift their mobilization strategy in black communities to emphasize the damaging effects of Trump and the reactionary conservative movement on racial progress,” Towler and Parker write.

Such a scenario, they write, could be enough to spark a national black political counter-movement, returning to the high engagement shown under President Obama. Such a movement could “swing battleground states and once again exert an African-American voice into the local, state, and national political conversation.”

Parker connected the research to the 2018 political landscape: “Exit poll data that examine recent high-profile elections in Virginia and Alabama suggests that Democrats pulled out wins thanks, in large measure, to the black community’s turnout,” he said. But until now, he added, there was little explanation for why blacks turned out in such large numbers.

“In this paper, we demonstrate that the existential threat posed by Trump and his administration not only explained why many blacks mobilized in 2016, but why they’ll mobilize in even greater numbers in 2018.”

Parker added, “The black community, in short, is critical to the resistance.”


For more information, contact Parker at csparker@uw.edu, or Towler at towler@csus.edu.