Trump attacks take a toll on Black Lives Matter support
By Laura Barrón-López
Politico, Published September 2, 2020
President Donald Trump has spent weeks attacking the Black Lives Matter movement, and it’s moving the polls — though not necessarily in a way that boosts his electoral chances.
Voters’ favorable views of the Black Lives Matter movement has dropped by 9 percentage points since June, including a 13-point dip among Republicans, according to new POLITICO/Morning Consult poll. The shift comes after the recent police shooting of another Black man: Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wis., last week.
Trump’s recent emphasis on the protests in cities like Kenosha and Portland, Ore., isn’t exactly to his political benefit. Despite Trump’s attempts to cast himself as the law-and-order candidate since George Floyd’s killing in May, the POLITICO/Morning Consult poll shows more voters trust former Vice President Joe Biden over Trump to handle public safety, 47 percent to 39 percent.
Voters also prefer Biden on race relations by a 19-point margin. Though a narrow majority of voters still view the Black Lives Matter movement favorably, bipartisan support has eroded over the past two months, as Trump has encouraged police violence against protesters, called the Black Lives Matter movement a “symbol of hate,” “discriminatory,” “Marxist” and “bad for Black people.” This week, Trump has tried to pin blame on Biden for violence in American cities.
The dip in support for Black Lives Matter, reflected across multiple polls in recent weeks, doesn’t come as a surprise to activists nor Democratic pollsters who expected Republican backlash to the movement’s newfound support. Favorability for Black Lives Matter dropped from 61 percent support in June to 52 percent now, according to the POLITICO/Morning Consult poll conducted Friday through Sunday.
“This is the direct effect of the strategy of Donald Trump and Fox News,” said veteran Democratic pollster Cornell Belcher. “The movement to a certain extent, over the last month or so, had been losing ground in controlling the narrative.”
The protests were “resoundingly successful” in creating an “inflection point” around racism, Belcher said. But the drop in favorability, he continued, comes as Trump increasingly describes the protests as “violence” and “anarchy,” rather than about police brutality and racial injustice.
“That is a huge problem for Donald Trump — if he’s in fact trying to be the safety and law and order candidate, and he’s losing in the public mind on that front,” Belcher said.
Since Blake was shot seven times in the back by police last month, protests have continued in the state, and riots have resulted in businesses burned to the ground or vandalized. Last week, a white teenager, Kyle Rittenhouse, allegedly shot three protesters, killing two, during the third night of demonstrations in Kenosha. Trump has not condemned Rittenhouse — who on social media promoted “Blue Lives Matter” and support for the president — despite the criminal charges against him, and the president has largely remained silent on the shooting of Blake. During his visit to Kenosha on Tuesday, Trump did not meet with Blake’s family but held a roundtable with local law enforcement.
Republicans are betting Trump’s “law and order” playbook — which echoes 1960s-era GOP strategies on racial divisions for which the party later apologized prior to Trump’s ascendance — will benefit him electorally, energizing his predominately white base and appealing to the white women Republicans lost in 2018. As unrest in Kenosha unfolded last week, departing White House adviser Kellyanne Conway said that increased “chaos” and “anarchy” would boost Trump’s reelection prospects. But there’s been little evidence to date, including in the new POLITICO/Morning Consult poll, that Trump’s bet is swaying voters.
“As President Donald Trump continues to drive his ‘law and order’ message amid a new wave of civil unrest following the police shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wisconsin, Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden maintains a comfortable trust advantage over the incumbent when it comes to who voters trust to handle public safety,” said Kyle Dropp, co-founder and chief research officer at Morning Consult.
Republican pollster Chris Wilson asserted the shift in support for Black Lives Matter “does put Biden at risk” as unrest continues in Democratically-run cities. But Wilson, CEO of WPA Intelligence, said the data shows “that the protests are more an opportunity than automatic win for Trump.”
“[Trump] has to navigate both a rhetorical and policy obstacle course to show the right amount of strength and engagement in protecting Americans and their property, without veering into ignoring the underlying issues that Americans believe exist and justified the protests before they turned violent,” Wilson said. “But this is the first issue in months that has the real possibility of shaking up the election and giving Trump the ability to make big gains.”
Overall, the new POLITICO/Morning Consult poll shows Trump with a 42 percent approval rating, unchanged from last week, before the Republican convention. The poll surveyed 1,988 registered voters and has a margin of error of plus or minus 2 percentage points.
Biden addressed Trump’s attacks and the racial reckoning across the country on Monday. “Does anyone believe there will be less violence in America if Donald Trump is reelected?” Biden said in a speech in Pennsylvania. “We need justice in America. And we need safety in America.”
Morning Consult’s latest presidential tracking poll shows Biden 8 points ahead of Trump, equal to his lead before both conventions last month. Some other public surveys do show a slight tightening in the Biden-Trump race, though there is still a lack of direct data tying the protests or shootings of civilians in Kenosha and Portland to Biden or Trump’s standing electorally.
Cliff Albright, co-founder of the voter engagement group Black Voters Matter, which is one of hundreds of organizations engaged in the movement, considered the dip in support for Black Lives Matter “predictable” and said it could provide a needed gut check on “overconfidence” among Democrats.
“We don’t want to underestimate Trump,” he said. “But also [we’re] not getting carried away by some of the messaging and some of the poll variation that we’ve seen.”
Democratic pollster Terrance Woodbury said a recent statewide poll in Georgia conducted by his firm, HIT Strategies, found 79 percent of voters in the burgeoning battleground state believe racial and ethnic discrimination is a problem in the country.
“The problem is that safety and security and crime are not at the top of white women, suburban women’s priority list. Covid-19, economy and racism remain at the top of their priority list,” said Woodbury. “One reason why reduction in support for BLM doesn’t necessarily equate to reduction of support for Biden is that Biden isn’t running to be president of BLM voters.”
Activists dismiss much of the polling on Black Lives Matter, pointing to the low public support in the 1950s and 1960s for integration, the March on Washington and sit-in demonstrations during the civil rights movement.
And another poll released Wednesday by Grinnell College found that when the issue of racial inequality was framed around victims of police violence, respondents’ views of the current state of racial equality changed. When those surveyed were reminded of Floyd’s death, those who said the country is “very close,” “pretty close” or “already there” on full equality for African Americans dropped from 50 percent to 31 percent.
The Grinnell College poll also shows Biden leading Trump by 8 percentage points among likely voters, 49 percent to 41 percent, matching his margin in Morning Consult’s latest polling.
“[Trump] probably should be running against Joe Biden, instead of the movement, if he wants to win in November,” said Maurice Mitchell, national director of the Working Families Party and a leader with the Movement for Black Lives coalition. “Movements do not exist on electoral timelines. This is the tension, and the movement for Black lives is much longer and will have much more of a deeper impact than in one president and one election cycle.”
This article was originally published here.