There was major enthusiasm about the Native American electorate’s potential role in the 2020 election outcome following a historic 2018 mid-term election where the importance of the Native American population as both voters and candidates reached unprecedented levels. The prospect of Native American voters building on this momentum was impacted severely by the coronavirus pandemic that his rocked the nation and devastated Tribal communities across the country.
Native American voters comprise more than 10% of eligible voters in New Mexico and Oklahoma, and are large enough in the key battleground state of Arizona to have been consequential to the outcome. But the ability of Native American voters to cast ballots in this historic election was negatively impacted by significant obstacles unique to these communities. A record numbers of Americans took advantage of the opportunity to vote-by-mail with fears of becoming ill with the coronavirus high across the electorate. But Native Americans often lack physical addresses and live great distances from drop boxes and postal offices and had much higher challenges voting-by-mail.
Data limitations have made it difficult for scholars and pundits to explore the voting behavior of the Native American electorate in past elections. The Latino Decisions Election Eve Survey includes a national sample (n=1,300) of Native American voters with an oversample of 400 in Arizona, providing a unique opportunity to assess how Native Americans voted in 2020 along with the issues that drove their voting decisions. The survey allows us to not only discuss the voting behavior of Native Americans across the country, but compare the results for Native Americans to those of other major racial and ethnic groups.
As reflected in the graphic below, 60% of Native American voters reported voting for Joe Biden, which is lower than the Democratic vote share of other racial and ethnic minorities, but significantly higher than White voters nationally. Native Americans were therefore part of the coalition of voters who helped Joe Biden defeat Donald Trump.
The large national sample of the Native American electorate allows us to highlight variation in voting behavior within the diverse Native American community.
- There was a significant gender gap among Native American voters, with 64% of women reporting they voted for Democrats compared to 56% of Native American men. This is consistent with the gender gap for other racial and ethnic groups, with women leaning more Democratic in their voting behavior in this election by wide margins across all racial and ethnic groups.
- Native American Independents broke toward the Democrats, with 49% of Independent/other party identifiers reported voting for Biden, compared to 38% for Trump and 12% for another party’s candidate.
- Native American voters of ages 18 to 39 were the most supportive of the Biden-Harris ticket across age groups of Native voters, with 65% Native American voters under age 40 voting Democratic in 2020, compared to 59% among those aged 40-59, and 53% among those 60 or older.
- Native American voters who live in urban areas were more supportive of the Biden-Harris ticket (+5%) than those who live in rural areas of the country.
Given the vast disparities in COVID-19 outcomes, the health crisis was the dominant theme for Native American voters in an election season like no other in American history. An astonishing 59% of Native American voters nationally reported that they know someone personally who has tested positive for the coronavirus, a higher percentage than any other racial group in the sample. The severe inequalities facing Native Americans in coronavirus outcomes led to COVID-19 relief being the most important issue for Native voters (45%). This was followed by jobs and the economy (37%) and the cost of health care (27%).
The disproportionate impact of the pandemic on Native Americans proved to be consequential to the election outcome. Our survey identifies that 62% of Native American voters nationally agreed with the statement that “President Trump ignored the early warning signs of coronavirus and because of his mismanagement, millions of Americans became sick and more than 220,000 died.” The President’s poor performance addressing the outbreak and the major challenges Native nations across the country have faced as a result of his performance was a major factor that led to his inability to win a second term.
Native nations across the country have faced major challenges receiving federal aid which has been desperately needed due to huge economic losses for Native American community. The Election Eve Survey reveals that nearly all Native Americans (93%) believe it is important that the next Congress pass a comprehensive stimulus bill with over 2 trillion dollars in additional funding for unemployment benefits, stimulus payments, small business loans, and support for state and local government—69% believe it is very important.
The 12-state and National American Election Eve Poll 2020 was jointly sponsored and funded by a consortium of more than a dozen non-partisan, civic engagement groups, and conducted with confirmed voters, between October 24 and November 2. A total of 15,200 individuals were surveyed, including 5,300 Latino, 4,100 African American, 1,700 Asian American, 1,300 Native American, and 2,800 white voters. For full details and polling results in all states and nationwide, consult our website.
About the Author Team
Gabriel R. Sanchez, Ph.D., is a Professor of Political Science and Founding Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Chair in Health Policy at the University of New Mexico, Director of the UNM Center for Social Policy, co-founder of the UNM Native American Budget and Policy Institute, and a principal at Latino Decisions. Sanchez co-wrote an expert witness report for both North Dakota Photo ID cases focused on the impact on Native American eligible voters, and worked with the Native American Rights Fund to support Native American voters in Nevada gain access to mail-based voting in this election cycle.
Laura Evans, Ph.D., is Associate Professor at the Evans School of Public Policy at the University of Washington. She studies race and politics, Native American politics, federalism, and political institutions in the U.S.
Raymond Foxworth (Navajo Nation), Ph.D., is vice-president of First Nations Development Institute (First Nations), a Native-led 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, working to strengthen American Indian economies through investing in and creating innovative institutions and models that strengthen asset control and support economic development for American Indian people and their communities. For more information, visit www.firstnations.org.
Editor’s Note: Mattt Barreto is a co-founder of Latino Decisions and was hired by the Biden campaign “to direct polling and focus group research for Latino voters,” as noted by his website. He has gone on record with Latino Rebels to say that he is not working on or involved with any other Latino Decisions work during his time with the Biden campaign.