WASHINGTON, D.C. — Since President Biden took office last January, his net approval rating among Black Americans has declined by 10 points points (from 86 percent then to 76 percent now in Navigator’s tracking, but the decline has been even more significant among younger Black Americans, whose approval fell from net +83 early in 2021 (88 percent approve – 5 percent disapprove) to net +35 today (63 percent approve – 28 percent disapprove).
To better examine this shift, Navigator Research and GBAO conducted focus groups last week with Black men in Michigan, young Black men in Georgia, and young Black women in Texas. In the groups, respondents discussed their perceptions of President Biden and Vice President Harris, voting rights, student loans, COVID, and Black history.
VIEW THE REPORT HERE
When asked to grade President Biden, respondents gave him mostly Cs, with one Michigan man saying, “He’s not a savior, but he’s a darn good advocate.” Respondents agreed he’s competent and has made progress on issues like COVID and health care.
However, most respondents want Biden to promote his agenda more aggressively and be more visible in those efforts, with one Texas woman saying she wanted to see him “put his foot down.” One Michigan man noted that the comparison to his predecessor made the lack of visibility even more stark, saying, “If you noticed Trump the last four years and how active he was on camera and off camera with stimulus checks or whether it be this or that, you actually saw him doing work, whether it was good or bad. But Biden, you don’t even see him at all.”
In Navigator’s recent quantitative survey conducted January 20-24, 56 percent of Americans said they wanted to hear more from President Biden, including 4 in 5 Black Americans (84 percent).
“The primary takeaway from these groups was an overwhelming desire to see and hear more from the president and vice president — people are frustrated not knowing what goes on behind closed doors,” said Jerel Williams, Vice President at GBAO and moderator of these focus groups. ““They heard his plans and now we want to see him taking action to enact them. At the same time, this desire comes from a genuine support of his policies and the knowledge that their passage would greatly benefit the Black community.”
Some focus group respondents noted Democrats’ slim majorities in Congress, but most still believe President Biden could be doing more to pass his agenda, including rules reform. A Michigan man said, “he needs to get on the Senate. He needs to get on Manchin and Sinema and get whatever he’s trying to get done.” Another Michigan man said, “Those Republicans changed the rules for the filibuster… And yet the Democrats are saying, ‘Yeah, but we’re going to play by the rules or we’re going to play this way.’”
This frustration is especially potent since Black Americans are very supportive of Biden’s agenda on voting rights (79 percent support) and the economy (78 percent support) in Navigator tracking over the last month. On the voting rights debate, respondents feel that the recent voter suppression bills have been passed as a direct result of Republican aggravation around their losses in 2020, with one Michigan man saying, “It’s getting to a point where the radicalization of one party is not going to be accepted by the masses. And they know it. And the only way to be able to beat that back is by… making it more difficult for those of us to get out there and vote.” Last month, 72 percent of Black Americans said they were supportive of eliminating the filibuster if it would lead to passing voting rights legislation.
Most respondents were also very supportive of student loan debt forgiveness and want to see swift action on that issue, with many citing it as a core campaign promise made by President Biden while a candidate. One Georgia man said, “And I really wish he was like putting his foot on student loans because that was his biggest thing on his campaign.” Participants also noted that debt forgiveness would specifically benefit the Black community, with one Texas woman saying that “more Black people would be able to purchase homes.”
“These conversations demonstrate that Black voters believe President Biden is just as capable of delivering for them as they have proved capable of delivering for him,” said Isaiah Bailey, an advisor to Navigator Research. “Black voters strongly support the president’s agenda, but many are frustrated with his administration’s plodding approach to addressing important matters such as voting rights and student loan forgiveness. At the same time, our participants provided a sense that the president can rebound with Black voters by acting on the proposals he’s set forth.”
To discuss COVID, Navigator re-recruited mostly the same group of Black men in Michigan that discussed the pandemic in focus groups last February. While these participants last year mostly held a “wait and see approach” about vaccinations, this year’s discussion focused primarily on the influences which led many of them to embrace the COVID vaccine. Some discussed informal vaccine mandates, as one Michigan man shared: “…my wife and I put some restrictions on coming into our house because we were vaccinated,” with another saying that his sister got vaccinated “as a birthday present” for him “because she knew I was very concerned.”
Next week, Navigator will release additional data from these focus groups on how Black Americans are thinking about Vice President Kamala Harris and the debate about teaching Black history in America’s public schools — sign up to receive updates from Navigator here.
About Navigator Research
The Navigator Research project is designed to act as a consistent, flexible, responsive tool to inform policy debates. By conducting research and providing reliable guidance to inform allies, elected leaders, and the press, Navigator helps top leaders in Washington and grassroots leaders around the country shape the debate on the issues that matter most. Follow us on Twitter for the latest updates.
About the Focus Groups
GBAO conducted three online focus groups were conducted on January 25, 2022 with Black voters in three states: less politically engaged men in Michigan (most of whom were in our February 2021 group), younger Democratic men in Georgia, and younger Democratic women in Texas. Some quotes have been lightly edited for brevity. Qualitative results are not statistically projectable.