During a “thank you” rally Thursday night in Hershey, Pennsylvania, President-elect Donald Trump thanked various groups of people for his expected Electoral College victory over Hillary Clinton. Among them were African Americans, but Trump acknowledged them for a reason you might not expect — he specifically thanked those who didn’t turn out to vote at all.
Trump won just eight percent of the black vote, after a campaign in which his main message to African Americans fell along the lines of “your lives are terrible so why not try something different.”
And at Thursday’s rally, Trump emphasized that his last-ditch efforts to persuade black voters to stay home worked.
And they’re smart and they picked up on it like you wouldn’t believe. And you know what else? They didn’t come out to vote for Hillary. They didn’t come out. And that was a big — so thank you to the African American community.
There’s some truth to what Trump says. Overall turnout as a percentage of the electorate this year was the lowest since 2000, and voters not turning out in urban areas was enough to shift the balance in the decisive Rust Belt states Trump unexpectedly won.
For instance, as ThinkProgress previously reported, 60,000 less votes were cast in Milwaukee County this year compared to 2012, and Trump won Wisconsin by fewer than 30,000 votes. In Detroit, Clinton’s vote total was 75,000 less than Obama, and Trump won Michigan by roughly 10,000. Turnout was also down in Philadelphia compared to both 2008 and 2012.
According to the Washington Post, black voters constituted 12 percent of the electorate this year, down one percent point from 2012.
Some of that decline might be attributable to lack of enthusiasm for Clinton. But another part of the decrease in turnout resulted from voter suppression measures Republicans have been pushing in recent years, particularly since the Supreme Court struck down key portions of the Voting Rights Act in 2013.
Voter ID laws disproportionately disenfranchise minorities and hurt Democratic candidates. According to a Project Vote study from last year, 13 percent of the country’s blacks lack photo IDs, compared to 10 percent of Latinos and five percent of whites. (Other studies have found that as many as one-quarter of African Americans don’t have a photo ID.) Lower-income people and young adults are less likely than other groups to have them.
These groups tend to vote for Democrats. A study published earlier this year by researchers at the University of California, San Diego found that “Democratic turnout drops by an estimated 8.8 percentage points in general elections when strict photo identification laws are in place,” compared to just 3.6 percentage points for Republicans.
Asked about the impact that could have on an election, the paper’s lead researcher, UCSD political science professor Zoltan Hajnal, told ThinkProgress, “It’s fair to say that given the number of states that have these laws, there’s a very real possibility that in a very tight election, it could sway the contest one way or another.”
Despite very little credible evidence of voter fraud, Wisconsin enacted a voter ID law in 2014. And comments Rep. Glenn Grothman (R-WI) made earlier this year turned out to be prescient. Asked during a TV interview why he thought a Republican presidential candidate could carry the state for the first time since 1984, Grothman said, “Now we have photo ID, and I think photo ID is gonna make a little bit of a difference.”