Voter turnout in the current election by African-Americans and criminal justice and policing were key issues in a recent poll by the African American Research Collaborative. The AARC, hosted by State Voices, is a unique collaborative consisting of pollsters, scholars, researchers and commentators.  

Roger Vann, executive director of State Voices, which supports voter registration efforts across the country and hosts the AARC, said, “This research provides undeniable evidence that African-Americans take their engagement in elections and on issues very seriously. Despite a decline in enthusiasm, the Black community is highly motivated to vote in this election. And, although they believe public institutions may not always get it right, they remain convinced that government has an important role to play in addressing their issues.”

The poll consisted exclusively of 1200 African-Americans who completed surveys. According to a summary from AARC, the national segment included a sample of 300 completed surveys, with additional state-specific segments with 900 completes, 300 each from Nevada, Pennsylvania and Georgia.

Individuals polled were registered likely voters and were interviewed on average for approximately 20 minutes. Half of those contacted completed surveys obtained by phone, both landlines and cell. The other half completed surveys via the web, all of whom were randomly selected from voter file records with email addresses.

Henry Fernandez, of the political consulting firm Fernandez Advisors, who works with the AARC, explained the importance of this poll. “Traditional polls tell us very little about African- American voters, despite the fact that in many states African-American voter turnout decides the outcome of elections,” he said. “It is essential to understand what issues influence Black voters on who to vote for and even whether to vote.”

On the subject of voter turnout and enthusiasm, the poll found that African-Americans were committed to voting in this election. Thirty percent of them said they voted early where it was available, either at an early vote location (23 percent) or via absentee ballot or by mail (7 percent).

An overwhelming number of African-Americans, 93 percent, said they would be voting. Eighty percent were absolutely certain, 5 percent said probably and 4 percent were fifty-fifty. Only 2 percent and 1 percent said they will not vote or don’t know, respectively.

Most alarming was the lack of current enthusiasm from Black voters compared with Obama’s turnout in 2012. Only 24 percent said they were more enthusiastic now than four years ago. But 54 percent said they were more enthusiastic in 2012 than in 2016. Seventeen percent said there was no difference.

Even so, African-American voters said it was more important to vote this year than in 2012. Sixty-four percent said it was more important to vote this year, 6 percent said it was more important in 2012 and 29 percent saw no difference or about the same.

When it came to the question of the down-ballot or voting for other races beyond the presidential race, there was a small but precipitous drop. Among those who had already voted, 8 percent said they did not vote for Congress. Four percent of those who hadn’t voted said they will not vote for Congress, and 8 percent said they do not know or are unsure whether they will vote for Congress.

Fernandez pointed out, “One thing that was striking is how important matters of policing and trust in the criminal justice system are to African-American voters. We don’t see these issues have the same impact with white voters.”

Criminal justice and policing rank very high among African-American voters, trailing only the importance of jobs and the economy. This result was determined by an open-ended question allowing the respondent to identify what they deemed most important to them. Forty-four percent cited jobs and the economy, 27 percent cited criminal justice and policing reform, 24 percent civil rights and discrimination, 24 percent cited education reform and schools and 16 percent cited and race relations, racism and discrimination.

Those polled were asked their response when they saw media coverage of the police shooting an unarmed Black person and whether that would have a bearing on their choice of a candidate with a plan to reform the police. Ninety percent agreed, 8 percent disagreed and 2 percent were undecided.

They were also asked if such action by the police would prompt them to attend a protest rally, contact a public official or take other actions to bring about reform. Eighty-two percent agreed, 16 percent disagreed and 2 percent didn’t know.

When asked if they had a favorable or unfavorable view of the police, 52 percent said favorable and 44 percent said unfavorable.

“Is the criminal justice system fair to African-American, Latinos and other people of color?” they were asked. Eight percent said they system was generally fair to all people, but 89 percent said that African-Americans and other people of color were treated unfairly. Two percent said they didn’t know.

Fernandez noted, “There is clearly a lot of work for the next president to do to address race relations. At the same time, it is good to see that on issues of concern to the LGBTQ and immigrant communities, African-Americans are at the forefront of the fight for civil rights.”

Twenty-two percent of those surveyed said that over the past eight years race relations have improved, 47 percent said they had gotten worse, 20 percent said they had stayed the same and 1 percent didn’t know.

On the issue of race relations between African-Americans and Hispanics, 85 percent said they were good, 11 percent said they were bad and 4 percent didn’t know. As for relations between African-Americans and whites, 50 percent said they were good, 47 percent said they were bad and 3 percent didn’t know. And relations between African-Americans and Asians were as follows: 78 percent said good, 16 percent said bad and 6 percent didn’t know.

Other issues posed in the poll dealt with the LGBTQ community, and 61 percent said that gays and lesbians have the right to marry, and 36 percent said they shouldn’t have a constitutional right to marry.

The DREAM ACT and Comprehensive Immigration Reform were greatly supported by those surveyed.