The African American vote after Obama
Cutting to the chase, black turnout plummeted, but the African Americans who did vote supported Democrat Hillary Clinton almost as overwhelmingly as they had Obama. But the details below are worth reading.
Since the 1930s (1940s in St. Louis) African Americans have been strong supporters of the Democratic Party, following years of loyalty to Republicans as the party of Abraham Lincoln. The appeal of New Deal programs attracted the first wave of party switchers, and the association of Democrats (like President Kennedy) with the civil rights movement brought black support for Democrats up to the 90% level in 1964, where it has largely remained ever since. Obama's candidacy brought the double surge of nearly 99% black support and higher turnout of African American voters. The high level of support Secretary Clinton received from black voters against Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders in the presidential primaries and President Obama's working endorsement of her candidacy in the general election foreshadowed that Clinton would continue the trend. Exit polls showed her beating Trump 88% to 8%, but when the actual votes were tabulated, results were mixed.
My analysis focuses mostly on seven St. Louis wards (1, 2, 3, 4, 21, 22 and 27) in which almost all voters are African American. Four other wards (5, 18, 19 and 26) have African American majorities but with substantial white minorities. All 11 of those wards elect African American aldermen. In St. Louis County, six townships have African American majorities, but all have larger white minorities than the city wards mentioned above. (Norwood Township, south of Ferguson, approximates the racial mix in the 18th Ward (the northern edge of the city's Central West End, north to Page Avenue). The integrated wards and townships provide less reliable evidence of black voting behavior, even though the whites there vote heavily Democratic, because 80% is a really high Democratic percentage for white voters, while black voters generally top 95%; so a white population as low as 25% still produces significant dilution of the black vote. On the other hand, black voters in the segregated wards may well vote more Democratic than black voters in integrated suburban and rural locations. But the segregated wards are the most accurate election returns available for this analysis.
Race-based comparisons to years before 2004 are complicated by significant ward and township redistricting after the 2000 census, when the segregated black north-side 20th Ward and the black majority Halls Ferry Township were eliminated and absorbed by neighboring wards and townships.
So, what happened in 2016? It's a two-part answer, one part favoring each party. The good news for Democrats is that Secretary Clinton trounced Trump in the segregated black wards, 96% to 2%. The 8% Trump support in the exit polls did not surface in St. Louis. While some black Republicans who backed Obama returned to their party, Clinton's vote fell about halfway between Obama's and John Kerry's in the election before Obama (2004). Her support was diluted down to just below 90% in the integrated black majority wards (about the same as Kerry's 2004 support) and down to 85% in the black county townships.
Kerry Obama Obama Clinton Segregated black wards 93.30% 98.39% 98.50% 95.61% Black majority wards 89.46% 93.14% 91.47% 89.83% Black majority townships * 93.30% 87.36% 84.90%
*Township-level election returns for 2004 in St. Louis County are not available online.
Bush McCain Romney Trump Segregated black wards 3.31% 1.35% 1.32% 2.14% Black majority wards 7.46% 6.43% 7.68% 6.08% Black majority townships * 10.76% 11.29% 10.84%
Republicans can take solace in the second part of the answer. The Obama-inspired surge in African American turnout evaporated in 2016. Compared to 2012, turnout was almost 26% lower in the segregated black wards, nearly 20% lower in the black majority wards, and nearly 18% lower in St. Louis County's black townships. Turnout in the city wards in 2016 was actually the worst of this century, dipping well below pre-Obama levels. In contrast, turnout in white majority wards and townships was mostly either level or higher, and turnout was way up in the rural and exurban areas where Trump soared. The reduction in black turnout was a major reason why Missouri, a national political barometer before 2008, was not close this time.
2004 2008 2012 2016 Segregated black wards 35563 37794 36072 26814 Black majority wards 19588 21721 18725 15070 Black majority townships n/a 108356 106673 87533
The charts above demonstrate the consistent patterns based on how diluted the black vote is or isn't. However, some of the variations are also instructive. In the city, in spite of lower overall black turnout, Trump drew more black votes than Romney (albeit just 98 votes, a gain of less than a percentage point); but in the diluted wards and townships Trump and Clinton both lost voters (Clinton losing more in the black county townships and both losing voters in the same proportions in the integrated black majority wards). Obama's 2008 support held fast in 2012 in the segregated black wards, but his support slipped that year in the integrated wards and townships like he did in white areas.
There were also differences in how Clinton and Trump performed in relation to the rest of their party tickets. In all city wards where black voters were significant factors, Clinton led the Democrat ticket and Trump fared worse than the entire Republican ticket. But in black townships in St. Louis County, the presidential candidates were the median contests (or close to it); the county townships where Clinton led her ticket and Trump trailed his were the mostly Republican elite areas where Trump ran poorly (as discussed in this earlier post).
Without expensive and extensive survey research, the cause of these differences is subject to speculation. One possibility is that black voters living outside the echo chamber and peer pressure of a segregated ward may be more independent (or subject to different class influences or peer pressure from white neighbors). Spanish Lake Township, home to a largely black middle and upper-middle class, votes less Democratic than the other black townships and, like upper middle class white areas, was also less receptive to Trump.
Differences in the respective white minorities may also account for the variations. Black settlement and white flight in the black-majority areas of the city were fairly complete by the 1990s. The white minorities in the those areas consist primarily of (a) liberal Central West End and Midtown residents, whose neighborhoods remain predominantly white, and were redistricted into black wards to maintain the number of black aldermen, and (b) predominantly young, progressive singles and childless couples who are re-gentrifying parts of the city. Both are strong demographics for Clinton. But the black majority county townships are mostly formerly white areas where integration is still proceeding, and the remaining whites are primarily older blue-collar voters who were a promising demographic for Trump.