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Former Vice President Joe Biden exaggerated the size of the black population in Delaware in an interview in which he spoke about why he thinks he has more black support than Mayor Pete Buttigieg.
"I come out of an environment where I have the eighth-largest black population in the country, in my state, and that's where I got my political education," he told Axios.
Biden was referring to a comparison of the black population in states and Washington, D.C. by percentage, but he didn’t mention the word "percentage" in that interview.
In terms of raw numbers, Delaware — a state with a population of just under 1 million — has a small black population that does not rank among the top states.
The U.S. Census sent us 2018 data showing the percent of the African American population in each state. Delaware was in seventh place — about 22.5% of the population is black. The top states in order were Mississippi, Louisiana, Georgia, Maryland, Alabama, South Carolina, Delaware and North Carolina. If we include the District of Columbia, then Delaware would be in eighth place.
But if we look at raw numbers, Delaware does not rank among the top states for the size of the black population. Delaware has about 220,000 black residents, placing it around the bottom one-third of states. By population, the top five states would be Texas, Georgia, Florida, New York and California.
William Frey, a demographer at the Brookings Institution who is known for his research on race, said it is appropriate to look at the percent of the black population for the state. However, Frey said, Biden’s comment would be more compelling if applied to a state with a large black percentage and sheer numbers such as Georgia.
A Census spokesman told us that both metrics — the percentage and raw numbers — are useful data, but it provides a more complete picture to look at both of them. In Biden’s case, he was using the statistic to make his case that he has a history of representing black voters and cares about issues of importance to them.
But it’s important to understand how small the Delaware population is.
"There are more black people in one county in Florida than in Delaware," said Keneshia Grant, a Howard University political scientist who does research on black voters. "It looks like the ten cities with the largest black populations all have larger black populations than the entire state of Delaware."
The percentage of black residents in Delaware is significant in terms of showing that Biden had to take into account the concerns of black voters when he was a senator there, University of Delaware political scientist David Redlawsk said.
"This is best expressed in terms of a percentage, which provides the relative importance to his own elections," he said.
We found that in some interviews Biden states that he is talking about a percentage while in other instances he omits that crucial explanation. (Biden has been making similar statements at least since 2006.)
Biden said Delaware has the "eighth-largest black population in the country."
As a low population state, Delaware does not have anywhere near the eighth largest black population in the country. Biden’s team told us he was referring to the percentage of black residents in states and D.C., which he didn’t specify in the Axios interview. Biden has used the statistic repeatedly in recent appearances — sometimes he says that he is referring to a percentage, and sometimes he doesn’t.
We rate his statement Mostly False.
U.S. Census, American Community Survey, 2018
Census, Broward County, July 1, 2018
Axios, Biden on why he thinks he has more support from black voters than Mayor Pete, Dec. 8, 2019
C-SPAN, Biden in Nashua New Hampshire, Dec. 8, 2019
CNN, Interview with Joe Biden, Nov. 22, 2019
Rock Hill Herald, Exclusive Biden interview: ‘I see a potential to win SC’, Aug. 29, 2019
MSNBC, Gun Safety Forum with Joe Biden (D), Presidential Candidate, Oct. 2, 2019
CNN, Biden Talks to the Press, Aug. 1, 2019
CNN, Biden interview, July 5, 2019
Brookings, "Why the race for black voters is the most important Democratic primary of them all," Nov. 25, 2019
New York Times, How Black Voters Could Help Biden Win the Democratic Nomination, Dec. 2, 2019
Pew Research, A Change in Politics With More Black Voters in the Deep South, Aug. 12, 2019
Delaware Online op-ed by Theodore Davis, Young people are changing black politics in Delaware, Dec. 30, 2018
University of Delaware’s James E. Newton, Black Americans in Delaware: An Overview
Telephone interview, Gerson Vasquez, U.S. Census spokesman, Dec. 13, 2019
Email interview, Mike Gwin, Joe Biden campaign, Dec. 13, 2019
Email interview, Keneshia Grant, Howard University political scientist, Dec. 13, 2019
Email interview, Ravi K. Perry, Howard University chair of political science department and professor, Dec. 13, 2019
Email interview, Edward C. Ratledge, University of Delaware Associate Professor, Dec. 13, 2019
Email interview, David Redlawsk, University of Delaware political scientist, Dec. 13, 2019
Email interview, William Frey, Brookings Institution senior fellow, Dec. 16, 2019
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