After a presentation on Black voter engagement last year, a prominent civil rights leader flatly told me, “Biden hasn’t done anything for Black people. We can’t carry his water.” His reaction mirrors the comments I hear among Black voters in many battleground focus groups. In one focus group of Black men in Ft. Lauderdale, 6 out of 8 men said their lives were better before Biden became President.

Data also backs up a common sentiment of disappointment. Between early 2021 and today, President Biden’s approval among Black voters dropped from 86% to 78%. And 72% of Black voters say their lives have not improved since Biden became President, with 18% saying their lives have worsened.

With multiple transformative legislative victories and executive orders in the first two years of his Administration, we decided to empirically assess Biden’s progress on Black voters’ policy priorities. The results demonstrate significant progress and a commitment to Biden’s promise in his acceptance speech to always have Black voters’ backs.

In 2021, we partnered with Black Futures Lab and BLOC Wisconsin to quantify Black voters’ preferred policy solutions on four pressing topics: racial justice, climate justice, economic justice and criminal justice reform. After comparing Biden’s accomplishments to the list, we found that the Administration, across all four issue areas, has made “significant progress” on 50% of Black voters’ preferred policies, “some progress” on 41% of those policies, and “little progress” on just 9% of those policies.

Racial Justice: 66% "significant progress," 22% "some progress," 11% "little progress"

This significant progress includes action on the top concern of declaring white supremacist acts as domestic terrorism — half of the Black respondents in a Black Futures Lab poll chose it as a top-three racial justice policy. To that end, Biden’s Department of Justice charged the Buffalo supermarket shooter with domestic terrorism, Homeland Security will invest $77 million in local partnerships to combat domestic extremism and the Justice Department is investigating the Jan. 6 attack as an act of domestic terrorism. In addition, outstanding priorities include removing white supremacists from police departments and preventing hate crime offenders from obtaining firearms.

Climate Justice: 80% "significant progress," 20% "some progress"

This progress has mainly come through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (BIL) and the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA). The BIL includes a $21 billion investment in cleaning up hazardous waste sites and $50 billion to replace lead pipes, both disproportionately located in America’s Black communities. The IRA sets industry-wide limits and fees for methane leakage and allots $16.2 billion for clean energy technology for historically disadvantaged communities, helping deliver a measure of climate justice. However, more sweeping climate ambitions laid out in the Green New Deal, which would require trillions of dollars in spending, remain unfulfilled.

Climate justice and racial justice shine bright as clear examples of concrete progress by President Biden on the Black agenda. With ample progress to tout, it’s clear Democrats have room to improve in communicating progress to Black voters. Messaging this progress to Black voters should be a top priority in the midterm elections.

Economic Justice: 13% "significant progress," 62% "some progress," 25% "little progress"

We graded Biden’s record on economic justice more critically. We scored more than half of the policies in this category as “some progress.” For example, consider student loan debt cancellation, the third-ranked economic priority for Black voters. Though Biden hasn’t canceled all federal student loan debts, he has consistently issued pauses — and he announced in August that he would cancel $10,000 in debt for borrowers making less than $125,000.

Criminal Justice Reform: 20% "significant progress," 80% "some progress"

Similarly, Biden has an incomplete but still substantial record on criminal justice reform, as 80% of the priorities are scored as “some progress.” The top-ranked criminal justice priority for Black voters was legal changes to increase police accountability. Unfortunately, Biden couldn’t muscle the George Floyd Act through Congress. Still, he did issue an executive order to establish a national database for police misconduct, and recently issued pardons for federal marijuana convictions, which disproportionately impact Black adults.

The election is now right around the corner, and Democrats’ most loyal voters are expressing deep cynicism and frustration toward politics. Therefore, it is incumbent on Democratic candidates to demonstrate to Black voters the progress they have made in the last two years before making promises about what they will do in the next two years. This messaging must do two things: (1) acknowledge the power that Black voters expressed in 2020 to achieve progress and (2) enlist them to continue the unfinished business of fulfilling the remaining priorities with their votes in 2022.


Terrance Woodbury is a founding partner at HIT Strategies, a public opinion research firm targeting young people and communities of color.