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Don’t Tell Henry Olsen, But He Sounds Like the Republicans of the 1930’s

Black Democrats
By Bruce Eberle and Vernon Robinson III

Henry Olsen, a columnist for The Washington Post, challenged the claim made in the new book, Coming Home (Vernon Robinson and Bruce Eberle), that Donald Trump will win a significant share of the black vote in 2020, as much as 25% in important swing states. In Olsen’s article headlined, “Sorry, conservatives. Trump isn’t going to get a surge in black voters.” he wrote, “Blacks have been the most solidly Democratic demographic bloc for decades. Polls show that Republican presidential candidates rarely get more than 10 percent of their votes.”

We know Mr. Olsen desperately hopes that black Americans aren’t deserting the Democratic Party for the Party of Lincoln and Trump, but the facts simply are not on his side. History is indeed repeating itself.

Although Franklin Roosevelt defeated Herbert Hoover nationwide in 1932, FDR lost the black vote by a wide margin to Hoover. In fact, Roosevelt received a lower percent of the black vote in 1932 than did Al Smith in 1928. Yet, just four years later FDR received more than 76 percent of the black vote. Coming Home does not predict that Donald Trump will win an FDR sized share of the black vote in 2020, but we do predict that he will win more than 20% of the black vote in states where he contests for that vote.

As we point out in Coming Home, a reliable poll taken in Pennsylvania just four days prior to the 2016 election showed Donald Trump winning 21 percent of the black vote in that crucial swing state. Olsen challenges that poll as well as others taken recently showing Donald Trump with 34 percent support from the black community (Rasmussen and Emmerson). Interestingly, he does not mention a poll taken in a similar time frame on behalf of the NAACP showing Trump receiving 21 percent support from black voters.

Henry Olsen accuses the authors of Coming Home of using “cherry-picked evidence” but in fact, he is the one guilty of cherry picking data even slanting the data. He cites unnamed polls that show Trump’s approval rating at 13 percent, but does not tell the reader if these are likely voters (as Rasmussen used in their poll) or anything about the sample taken. He even claims that a Washington Post poll of black voters only showed Trump getting just 4 percent of the vote against Joe Biden. Again, no data on the poll itself as to whether or not these are likely voters and if the polling reflects all strata of black voters at their various income levels.

In an attempt to further declaim the validity of the poll taken in Pennsylvania in 2016 of likely black voters showing Trump winning 21% of the black vote, he cites an exit poll showing Trump won only 7% of the black vote. Olsen should be aware that exit polls are notoriously wrong. That’s why we did not use another 2016 exit poll in Pennsylvania showing Trump wining 18 percent of the black vote. Even the New York Times printed an article debunking the accuracy of exit polling.

Olsen’s contention that Trump can’t win the black vote rests on two things—the past voting pattern of black Americans over the past 55 years and on challenging the Pennsylvania poll we cited. He states that because the sample of black Americans is so small the error margin is closer to plus or minus 6 percent. Thus, even accepting his plus or minus 6 percent accuracy argument it means that in 2016 Donald Trump won either 15 percent of the black vote in Pennsylvania or as much as 27 percent of the black vote. At 15 percent it is still substantial, but frankly, that result is still doubtful.

If you recall the BREXIT vote in England, the polls showed that the vote to remain in the European Union was about 1 percent ahead of those who wanted to leave the EU. The actual vote however, gave those who wanted to leave an almost 4 percent margin of victory. Similarly, the 2016 polls showed Hillary Clinton with a comfortable lead over Donald Trump in the race for the White House. Why were these polls so far off? The answer is shaming. In England the news media tried to shame people from voting to leave the EU, and in the United States the media did their best to shame voters from voting for Trump. Accordingly, those in England that supported leaving the EU refused to speak with pollsters, just as Donald Trump supporters were similarly disinclined to speak with pollsters.

Accordingly, if white voters were reluctant to tell pollsters they were voting for Donald Trump, just imagine how much more difficult it would be for a black voter to tell a pollster he or she was voting for Trump? That’s why we believe it is actually much more likely that the black vote for Donald Trump in Pennsylvania in 2016 was under counted and that it is more realistic to believe that he won as much as 25% of the black vote in that crucial swing state.

But, please don’t wake up Henry Olsen and his fellow skeptics. Let them sleep on as the Republicans did in 1936 and enjoy a big surprise on election night 2020.

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