Miami Gardens’ backing for Donald Trump on Election Day 2020 more than doubled from 2016, vote tallies from the majority-Black city’s precincts show — a surprising result that may reflect the Republican president’s broader inroads into minority voters’ traditional support for Democratic candidates.
It was still a blowout for Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden, who accounted for a little more than 84% of the Miami Gardens vote. That was a drop from Hillary Clinton’s 94% share in 2016, though. And while Democrats expected that Biden wouldn’t match Clinton’s results, Miami Gardens Mayor Oliver Gilbert III said he was still shocked at the size of the bump his city’s voters gave Trump.
“I’m always surprised of anyone who votes for Trump,” Gilbert quipped before pushing back on the assumption that Black voters are monolithic voters. “People vote for very different, independent reasons.”
It’s not precisely clear why Trump’s support ballooned in Florida’s largest primarily Black city. But the numbers tell their own story: Trump got 7,601 votes this year versus 43,138 for Biden, compared to 3,328 for Trump and 42,548 for Clinton in 2016.
Some experts point to Miami Gardens’ growing number of Hispanic residents, now some 26% of the city’s population, according to Census estimates. Voters in Miami-Dade’s Hispanic-majority precincts swung heavily to Trump this week.
Others mentioned Trump’s history of sowing disinformation targeted at Black Americans, while GOP leaders said the president’s message of economic opportunity for Black people and his record on criminal-justice reform attracted many Black voters.
In reality, it was likely a combination of factors, said Olivia Jackson, a political science professor at Florida Memorial University in Miami Gardens.
“Donald Trump did a great job lobbying for Black and Latinx votes in the final days of the campaign,” Jackson said.
She added that Trump touting The First Step Act, the criminal justice reform legislation passed under his administration, coupled with his attacks on Biden’s key backing of a controversial 1994 crime bill likely resonated with Black men. “He was not expecting to get 90% of Black votes. We know that. But, strategically, it made sense if he could get a one- or two-percentage point increase [from 2016].”
Miami Gardens’ voter registration numbers show a 14% increase from 2016, reflecting the city’s growth. Its Latino population saw the biggest jump in registration of 40%, to 14,929 voters.
But while Miami-Dade’s Hispanic population helped fuel Trump’s win in Florida, Miami Gardens’ Latinos account for only 20% of the city’s electorate. In another anomaly for Miami-Dade, the greatest number of Hispanic voters in the city are registered as Democrats, followed by those with no party affiliation.
That suggests that the role of Hispanic voters in Trump’s Miami Gardens boost is, at best, only part of the story.
The bigger part, suggested Sean Jackson, head of the Black Republican Caucus of Florida, was Trump’s success in persuading many Black voters, especially Black men, that the president has something real and tangible to offer them.
Jackson cited low Black unemployment figures prior to the COVID pandemic, the creation of economic empowerment zones and growing disenchantment with Democratic “rhetoric” about race.
It also helped that Trump was able to enlist high-profile support from some Black business leaders and celebrities like retired football star Herschel Walker and rappers Ice Cube and Lil Wayne., Jackson said.
Trump “has shown Black people, and Black men in particular, that [he] is not only not a racist, but actually wants everybody to be inclusive of the American Dream — the opportunity to have a good-paying job and the opportunity for economic advancement,” Jackson said.
On Trump’s message, Jackson added: “I know it’s resonating in Miami Gardens. When you go to Miami Gardens, you are bound to have Black men who want the very same things.”
Jackson’s assertions appear to have proven true outside Miami Gardens as well.
In Miami-Dade’s primarily Black precincts, Trump won a little more than 13% of the vote compared to roughly 7% in 2016. Nationally, preliminary exit polls show Trump’s support among Black voters increased four points to 12% in 2020, according to the New York Times.
This shift to the right, albeit relatively small, should be of particular concern to Democrats, considering how much time the Biden campaign spent in Miami-Dade. Former President Barack Obama made two appearances in the 10 days leading up to the election. Biden’s running mate, Kamala Harris, spoke twice in Miami Gardens.
When asked if sexism possibly played a role in the shift, Gilbert rejected the idea entirely.
“I think Kamala Harris was probably the most popular of the four people on the ticket in Miami Gardens,” he said.
Like Gilbert, T. Willard Fair, president of the Urban League of Greater Miami, also challenged the notion that Black voters uniformly vote for Democrats. He specifically took issue with the assumption that Black people can’t change their minds.
“If white folks increased their vote in Miami Gardens, we would not be having this conversation,” Fair said.
Fair then took it a step further, saying that Biden “has no respect for Black people” while chastising both his and President Barack Obama’s record on race.
“Once history is written correctly, [Trump] did more for Black folks than Barack Obama ever thought about doing,” he said.
Using Russia 2020 election interference as an example, Florida Memorial’s Jackson ultimately attributed Trump’s uptick in support in Black communities — both nationally and locally — as evidence that the president’s penchant for disinformation works. In the past month alone, Trump has falsely claimed Biden called Black youth “super predators” and that the Democratic presidential nominee would raise taxes, which is only true for people whose income exceeds $400,000.
“Everybody doesn’t know how to distinguish fact from fiction,” she said.