Key takeaways from a new poll of Black voters

President Biden's sagging support among Black voters has set off alarm bells among Democrats and raised hopes among Republicans that Donald Trump could score historic gains with a key part of their opposition's base.

But exclusive USA TODAY/Suffolk University polls of Black voters in Michigan and Pennsylvania, two crucial swing states, show a more complicated dynamic within a demographic group that is unexpectedly in play in November's election.

The surveys of 500 Black voters in each state, taken by landline and cell phone from June 9 to 13, have margins of error of plus or minus 4.4 percentage points.

Here are seven takeaways.

Exclusive poll: Black voters aren't thrilled with Biden but dislike Trump more

1. Yes, Biden has a problem.

The president has suffered significant losses among Black voters who supported him in 2020.

Seventy-six percent of those surveyed in each state said they voted for Biden four years ago. Now, his support has fallen 20 percentage points in Pennsylvania (to 56%) and 22 points in Michigan (to 54%).

Exit polls in 2020 showed Biden received 92% of the Black vote in each state, making his decline now even more precipitous.

The top reason volunteered by respondents in the survey was discontent with the job he's done in the White House, followed by worries about his age and mental acuity. Third was concern about wars, including his support for Israel in the conflict in Gaza.

Biden was viewed favorably by 61% to 31% in Michigan and 59% to 33% in Pennsylvania. While a net positive, it's an anemic showing for a candidate among a part of the electorate that for decades has overwhelmingly supported his party.

To compare, former president Barack Obama, the nation's only Black president, had favorable ratings of 88% to 9% in Michigan and 84% to 11% in Pennsylvania.

2. But Black voters aren't sold on Trump, not yet.

Biden's big losses have resulted in small gains for Trump.

In the poll, the presumptive Republican nominee was backed by 15% of Black voters in Michigan, compared with 9% who said they voted for him in 2020, and by 11% in Pennsylvania, compared with 8% in 2020.

Exit polls in the last election showed Trump received 7% of the Black vote in each state.

Even limited shifts in support could make a difference in a very close contest, of course.

By more than 2 to 1, Trump drew more support from Black men than Black women − by 22% to 9% in Michigan, and 16% to 6% in Pennsylvania.

Overall, he was viewed much more negatively than Biden. In Michigan, Trump was seen unfavorably by more than 3 to 1, 72% to 23%. His unfavorable rating was even higher in Pennsylvania, at more than 5 to 1, 79% to 15%.

3. Kamala Harris is less popular than Biden

Kamala Harris made history in 2020 when she was the first woman, the first Black person, and the first Asian-American to be elected vice president.

Despite that groundbreaking status, she is viewed a tick less favorably than Biden among Black voters in these two states, although her unfavorable rating is also a bit lower: 60% to 24% in Michigan and 55% to 30% in Pennsylvania.

If for some reason Biden wasn't running for president, Harris was preferred for the nomination over several other big-name Democrats, including 2016 nominee Hillary Clinton, California Gov. Gavin Newsom and Georgia Sen. Raphael Warnock.

Harris was the second choice in Pennsylvania and the third in Michigan, where home-state governor Gretchen Whitmer was second.

Rated first in both states: former first lady Michelle Obama, who by the way has made it clear she has no interest in running for office or moving back into the White House.

4. For Trump, choosing a Black running mate could backfire.

A majority of Black voters, with percentages ranging from 55% to 59%, said they would be less likely to vote for Trump if he chose any of three Black men frequently mentioned as potential vice-presidential candidates: former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson, South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott and Florida Rep. Byron Donalds.

That negative reaction swamped the number who said those potential running mates would make them more likely to support the GOP ticket − 17% for Carson, 10% for Scott and 7% for Donalds.

5. Trump as a fellow victim of injustice? Not so much.

Trump has speculated that his legal troubles, including his conviction on 34 felony counts in New York and three other pending criminal indictments, have increased his support among Black Americans because they see him as a fellow victim of an unfair justice system.

That argument didn't ring true in this poll. By a 5 to 1 margin, 79% to 15%, Black voters in Michigan disagreed. In Pennsylvania, they disagreed by a margin of 7 to 1, 84% to 12%.

What's more, 55% of those in Michigan and 64% in Pennsylvania said they personally found Trump's comments offensive.

That's not to say those surveyed believed the criminal justice system was fair. More than 7 in 10 in each state called it unfair, and majorities said they personally knew of someone who had been wrongly convicted.

6. The verdict: Lock him up.

Almost two-thirds of Black voters in each state − 64% in Michigan and 65% in Pennsylvania − said Trump's conviction in New York on charges of falsifying business records in a hush-money scheme made them less likely to vote for him.

If they were the judge in the case, 51% in Michigan and 61% in Pennsylvania said they would impose the harshest possible penalty: jail time.

7. For the disaffected, third parties have new appeal.

In 2020, just 1% of those surveyed said they voted for a third-party candidate. Now the drift from Biden has swelled that number to 15% in Michigan and 16% in Pennsylvania.

In Michigan, independent candidate Robert F. Kennedy Jr. was backed by 8% and Cornel West by 6%. In Pennsylvania, West was supported by 8% and Kennedy Jr. by 7%. Green Party candidate Jill Stein was supported by 1% in each state.

A fair share of third-party supporters identified their second choice as some other independent candidate. Backers of West in both states were most likely to choose RFK Jr., for instance.

But the findings underscored Biden's opportunity to claim, or reclaim, the loyalty of Black voters who have defected to third parties. In both states and with every independent candidate, supporters were more likely to pick Biden than Trump as their second choice.

Kennedy's supporters in Pennsylvania picked Biden over Trump by 27% to 11%, for instance. In Michigan, the margin was 48% to 13%.

The question ahead: Can Biden win them back?

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Takeaways from new poll: 3rd parties gain, Biden struggles, Trump