Black voters backing Biden, but not with 2020 enthusiasm

President Joe Biden speaks during a meeting with his "Investing in America Cabinet," in the Roosevelt Room of the White House, Friday, May 5, 2023, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

COLUMBIA, S.C. — LaJoia Broughton, a 41-year-old small-business owner, considers herself a fan of President Joe Biden. 

He’s provided opportunities for black-owned business while bringing integrity to the White House, she said. Her decision for 2024 is not in doubt. 

“Biden has proven himself in the last few years, and I’ll be voting for him in the next election,” said Broughton, who owns a lobbying and public affairs firm in Columbia, South Carolina’s capital city. 

Destiny Humphreys is less enthusiastic. The 22-year-old senior at South Carolina State University, the state’s only public historically black college or university, or HBCU, said she’s disappointed in the president, feeling his accomplishments have so far not lived up to his promises. 

“Honestly, I feel like right now America is in a state of emergency. We need some real change,” said Humphreys, who remains unsure about her vote in next year’s election. 

After a dismal start to his 2020 presidential campaign, black voters in South Carolina rallied behind Biden, reviving his White House ambitions by driving his Democratic rivals from the race and ultimately putting him on a path to defeating then-President Donald Trump. But at the outset of Biden’s reelection bid, the conflicting views among the same voters provide an early warning sign of the challenges he faces as he aims to revive the diverse coalition that proved so crucial to him before. 

Black voters formed the heart of Biden’s base of support and any dip in support could prove consequential in some of the most fiercely competitive states, such as Georgia, Michigan and Wisconsin. Well aware of the challenge, the Biden campaign says it’s confident in its message and is planning to highlight how the president has prioritized issues that are important to black Americans. 

“The progress made in the first two years — whether it’s the historically low black unemployment rate, unprecedented funding to HBCUs, or halving the black poverty rate in half — is all at stake in 2024,” campaign spokesman Kevin Munoz said in an emailed statement. “The campaign will work hard to earn every vote, and expand on its winning 2020 coalition.” 

Yet there are some early signs that Biden will have work to do to generate enthusiasm among Black voters for another run. 

Biden’s approval rating among black adults has fluctuated over his two years in office. As with most demographic groups, the latest Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research poll finds his 58% current approval rating among black adults sitting well below where he began. Roughly 9 in 10 black adults approved of Biden over his first months in office. 

South Carolina provides an early barometer on how black voters are viewing Biden. 

After his 2020 campaign was rescued, Biden rewarded the black voters who are decisive in South Carolina Democratic politics by moving the state to the head of the party’s nominating schedule next year. He also followed through with his campaign pledge to appoint the first Black woman to the Supreme Court. 

Many younger voters said they aren’t convinced that Biden has delivered on their most important priorities. 

“He wouldn’t have been president without us,” said Courtney McClain, a 22-year-old recent graduate of the University of South Carolina, who voted for Biden in 2020, her first presidential election. 

Getting her loans forgiven, both for her bachelor’s degree and a planned master’s program, is a top priority for her. She applauds Biden’s attempt at a college loan forgiveness program, but is frustrated that the plan is now in doubt after it was challenged in the courts by Republicans. 

“So, I definitely think moving forward, if he wants to promise something as large as that, I think he should put the steps in place to make sure that he’s able to go through with that before he just says it out loud,” McClain said. 

Biden’s plan, announced last August, is uncertain after the Supreme Court last December said it would deliberate over the program’s future. 

Many black voters, especially those in the middle of their careers and beyond, said they already are looking forward to supporting Biden, who they say has a long history of advocating for the black community. Laddie Howard, who owns a business making handcrafted leather goods in Sumter, just west of Columbia, said he would like to see other candidates enter the race but knows that’s not realistic. 

“It’s going to be a battle of Biden against whoever emerges from the other side, and everything is so extreme on the other side that, you know, I can’t see many options besides Biden at this point,” said Howard, 52.