Russian trolls tried to turn off African-American voters in 2016, when fewer African-Americans voted

Posted at 4:01 AM, Dec 18, 2018
and last updated 2018-12-18 06:01:36-05

Donald Trump won the presidency in 2016 with the electoral college. But in three states (Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin), his margin over opponent Hillary Clinton was less than 50,000 votes each. In fact, just 77,744 total votes in those three states separated the two candidates. If Clinton had won all three, she would’ve been victorious over Trump. But she wasn’t. Every vote mattered in the 2016 election.

But not everyone voted. Not by a longshot. Exit polls show concern with both candidates. And helping to fuel that was the Russian election interference campaign, which in particular targeted African-Americans on social media and spread doubts about Clinton and specifically shought to decrease turnout, according to a new report commissioned for and released by the Senate Intelligence Committee Monday.

It’s impossible to say that the Russian influence campaign specifically changed the minds of African-American voters or turned them off to Clinton or that it didn’t play into divisions that were already festering in the country and the party.

But it is absolutely true that the number of African-American voters who participated in the election declined sharply in 2016, according to the Current Population Survey. It was the largest decline in turnout among African-Americans since collection began on the data in 1988. Just 59.4% of eligible African-Americans voted in 2016, down from 66.2% who reported voting in 2012. The decline is likely in part due to the absence of President Barack Obama, the nation’s first black President, on the ballot. He helped drive historic turnout in the African-American community in both 2008 and 2012. But 2016 was the first time there had been a decline in Black turnout since 1996.

Wisconsin, a state won by Trump by only 10,704 votes, saw the largest drop in turnout among African-Americans, down from 73.7% who voted in 2012 to 45.1% in 2016 — a 27 point decrease. The decreases in Michigan and Pennsylvania weren’t as significant. The next biggest decreases in turnout among African-Americans between 2012 and 2016 were in Indiana (down 20 points) and Mississippi (down 13 points).

Only 21% of Americans said they thought the elections in the United States were run and administered very well, with 53% who said they were run and administered somewhat well, according to a survey by Pew Research Center during the election in 2018. They were much more likely to think that elections in their own community, specifically, were run and administered very well (53%). Another quarter said that they were very confident that votes across the US were counted as voters intended.

In July 2017, 56% of Americans said they were extremely or very concerned about voter suppression, according to a Fox News poll. Non-white voters were much more likely to be concerned about voter suppression (71%) than white voters (51%).

A Quinnipiac poll from March 2017 found similar results, 35% of voters thought voter suppression was the biggest problem in presidential elections compared to voter fraud (30%) and outside interference (26%). Republicans were much more likely to cite voter fraud (55%), while Democrats said voter suppression (50%) and were more likely to think outside interference was a big problem (30% for Democrats, 21% for Republicans).