In another close Biden vs. Trump race, Black and Latino voters could make the difference

Joe Biden
Polls show President Biden has the support of most Black and Latino voters in the 2024 election, but his margins have shrunk significantly from four years ago.
(Alex Brandon / Associated Press)
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Two weeks after Donald Trump’s conviction on multiple felonies related to the payment of hush money to a porn actress, we have a pretty good sense of the political impact: It has hurt him, but not much.

In the average of public polls maintained by the FiveThirtyEight website, for example, Trump’s edge over President Biden has dropped by 0.8 percentage points since the jury verdict was announced.

That’s a very small shift, but it comes in a very tight race: The polling average now finds the two candidates almost tied — 41% for Trump, 40% for Biden.


A caution about polling: Surveys give us the best information we have about what’s on voters’ minds and how they’re thinking about the candidates. They’re an irreplaceable guide.

But they’re not perfect, and races that are super-close highlight their weaknesses.

Among other problems: Pollsters have to guess which voters will actually cast ballots this fall; we can’t know for sure. All polls also come with a degree of uncertainty, reflected in their stated margin of error. In statewide races, it’s normal for polls to miss the final results by 4-5 points. There’s no way to know in advance which side the error will help.

In short, while polls are important, they can’t deliver the level of precision needed to truly say who’s ahead in a race this close. Keep that in mind as the numbers bounce around between now and election day.

No game changers likely

Polls are also a snapshot, and lots of events could have an impact between now and November. The list starts with the scheduled June 27 Biden-Trump debate and continues through Trump’s sentencing on July 11, his pick of a running mate, the two party conventions, a second debate in September and undoubtedly other developments that can’t be known in advance.

But be wary of claims that those, or anything else, will be game changers.

Voters know these two men and know what they think of them. (Fifty-seven percent have an unfavorable view of Biden, and 55% have an unfavorable view of Trump, according to the latest national survey by Echelon Insights, a highly regarded Republican firm.)

The remaining pool of undecided or weakly committed voters may be critical to the outcome, but it’s a small group and one that’s mostly inattentive to politics and news.


In short, this game isn’t likely to change. Here’s what it looks like.

The paths to 270

In 2020, Biden carried 25 states, the District of Columbia and one Nebraska congressional district, which splits its electoral votes. He ended up with 306 electoral votes to Trump’s 232.

Biden currently can count on 19 of those states plus D.C., with a total of 226 electoral votes.

Georgia, which Biden carried last time, currently leans toward Trump. Five other Biden-carried states — Nevada, Arizona, Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania — are competitive. Together, they have 61 electoral votes.

Of the 25 states Trump carried, all but one remain solidly in his favor. The exception, North Carolina, leans in his direction. Democrats have hopes of making it competitive, but that’s not the case now.

To get to the 270 needed for victory, Biden needs to nail down 44 electoral votes beyond what he can currently count on.

His best shot, current polls suggest, would be to carry the three competitive northern industrial states. Together, they would give him precisely what he needs. In all three, recent polls show a very tight race.


As for Trump, if he can hold North Carolina and Georgia, he would have 251 electoral votes. Winning Pennsylvania’s 19 would give him the White House.

Trump’s advantage

All that sounds very familiar: The election will likely be settled by small margins in Wisconsin, Michigan and, especially, Pennsylvania — exactly as it was in both 2016 and 2020.

But there’s a twist this time.

Trump won in 2016 by appealing to the grievances of conservative white Americans. This time, his advantage over Biden comes by virtue of support from Black and Latino voters.

Biden still wins both groups, but his margins have shrunk significantly from four years ago.

A new poll from Marist College of voters in Pennsylvania illustrates the point. The poll finds Trump ahead, barely, in a state that Biden carried in 2020 and that both candidates need this year.

Trump has support from 47% of registered voters to Biden’s 45%, the poll found. Independent candidate Robert F. Kennedy Jr. has 3%.


The change from 2020 is not because Trump has made gains with the state’s white majority: Biden gets almost precisely the same level of support from them that he got before.

What’s changed is that Trump gets 23% of Black voters, compared with only 7% whom he won in 2020, according to exit polls.

The same holds true in recent polls of other competitive states. In Arizona, for example, a poll by Fox News conducted just after the verdict in the New York criminal case found Trump leading 51% to 46% — a result very similar to other recent surveys in the state.

As in Pennsylvania, white voters in Arizona haven’t moved — Trump wins among them by about 9 points, the poll found. What has changed since Biden narrowly won the state is that he’s only winning Latino voters by eight points — less than half his margin from four years ago.

Some Democratic pollsters have challenged the specifics in those public polls, saying they overstate the backing that Trump is getting from voters of color. But even they generally agree that Biden is getting less support in Black and Latino communities than in 2020.

Trump’s peril

Black and Latino voters who have moved away from Biden — either shifting to Trump or, more often, moving to undecided or to a third party — typically tell pollsters they feel they were doing better financially during Trump’s tenure.


But they don’t necessarily like Trump or look forward to seeing him back in the White House. That gives Biden an opening.

That opening will be easier to exploit if, over the next several months, their view of economic conditions could change. That could happen, with wages for most American workers going up faster than prices.

But the key question, as political analyst Ron Brownstein has written, may be “whether Trump can sustain his support among non-Whites while offering … a bristling message and agenda on race-related issues” that energizes his white, conservative core supporters.

Trump repeatedly has called for mass deportations of immigrants in the country without legal documentation — a group that’s heavily Latino — as well as reinstitution of stop-and-frisk police tactics that many cities have abandoned because they led to civil rights violations.

Those policies are not popular — except with Trump’s base. A lot of voters, especially younger ones, who are just now starting to tune in to the campaign, haven’t heard much about them. Democrats will be working overtime during the next several months to make sure that changes.

Trump’s biggest vulnerability may be that he’s trying to pull off a high-wire act — hoping to gain the support of younger Black and Latino voters while simultaneously threatening to pursue mass deportations and unleash the police on their communities.


Biden’s main weaknesses

As for Biden, his biggest weakness remains what it’s been all along — his age, 81.

The Echelon Insights poll asked voters which of two issues concerned them more — Biden’s age and mental fitness or Trump’s criminal convictions: 50% said Biden’s age, compared to 44% who said Trump’s convictions.

Republicans overwhelmingly said Biden’s age concerns them more. But so did independents, 45% to 42%. And even 1 in 8 of Biden’s 2020 voters said that was their bigger concern.

For the last 3 1/2 years, White House aides have kept Biden fairly sheltered, avoiding large news conferences and sit-down interviews with reporters in which the president’s long-standing penchant for verbal flubs might create a problem.

But Biden has been running for office almost his entire adult life. He’s had some spectacular failures, but also achieved the ultimate political success. As he showed in his State of the Union speech this year, he can rise to the occasion when he needs to.

Over the next several months, as the campaign heats up, voters will be watching his every step to see if he falters. He’ll have the opportunity to convince them that he’s up to another four years on the job. The race remains close enough — and his opponent vulnerable enough — that his fate lies largely in his own hands.

What else you should be reading

No urban doom loop: Contrary to much speculation, a large majority of big American cities have started growing again now that the pandemic has faded.


Election forecasts: The prognosticators have started to roll out their election models. FiveThirtyEight gives Biden a tiny edge. The Economist says the race leans toward Trump.

L.A. Times special: Growing numbers of people across the country have chosen to rent new single-family homes in subdivisions designed only for rentals.

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