Sun. Jun 23rd, 2024

How the Biden campaign is tackling its Black and Latino voter problem

By 37ci3 May29,2024



For months, polls have shown President Joe Biden losing support among Black and Latino voters, potentially handing former President Donald Trump a prime opening to steal longtime Democratic loyalists in November.

It’s meant chest-thumping by Trump and Republicans who boast that they’re forcing Biden to defend what should be reliably Democratic turf. Trump held a rally in the Bronx, New York, last week that his campaign framed as a way to reach out to minority voters.

But the Biden campaign is pushing back on a stubborn narrative that an exodus of Black and Latino voters is on the horizon. It says it has a game plan to keep these voters faithful to the president and give him the upper hand come November. 

Interviews with more than half a dozen Biden campaign officials and allies, including in battleground states, reveal a long-term strategy, built on the premise that ensuring strong Black and Latino voter turnout in November would take more than a year of work and planning. That meant investing early on ground operations and through targeted ads — including in Spanish — attempting to reach voters of color that the campaign couldn’t in 2020; getting the president and vice president in front of local minority-owned news organizations; and fanning out in nontraditional ways, like at bingo halls, local food drives, barbecues and farmers markets. 

They also contend that the narrative that Trump is attracting minority voters is over-torqued and, so far, more talk than actual investment on the ground or on the airwaves. 

“Biden’s campaign knows the importance of showing up, investing in our communities, and earning every single vote,” Quentin Fulks, Biden’s principal deputy campaign manager, said in a statement. “We’re making massive, historic investments to reach the voters who will decide this election — and we are doing it along the President’s historic record of fighting for and delivering for our communities.”

While some within Biden’s campaign team acknowledge they cannot take anything for granted given that his numbers have slipped among the Black and Latino electorates since 2020, they’re confident that the infrastructure they built across battleground states is so deep and so strong that Trump will not be able to catch up.

They say they’ve done that through unprecedented early investments in paid advertising, including through Black and Latino media organizations. On the ground, the campaign has already opened 150 offices in battleground states, including in Black and Latino neighborhoods. Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris build their travel to those states to include specific stops to reach out to Latino or Black voters including at churches and small businesses

One Biden campaign official predicted that Trump’s lack of investment up until this point, roughly five months out from the election, would ultimately come back to bite Trump at the ballot box.

The numbers, however, aren’t encouraging for Biden. Large groups of Black and Latino voters have heightened concerns about the economy under the president, with one-third of Black respondents and two-thirds of Latino respondents in an April NBC News poll saying the economy hadn’t improved under Biden. And about 6 in 10 Black and Latino voters said they felt their family income was falling behind the cost of living.

Trump’s campaign has exploited this dynamic. 

“Joe Biden is a weak, failed, and dishonest President whose disastrous policies have done nothing for our community besides driving up the cost of gas, groceries, and rent while making it nearly impossible to buy a new home, start a new business, or save money for the future,” Trump campaign adviser Danielle Alvarez said in a statement.

Black voter outreach

Sources close to the Biden campaign’s strategy with Black voters think ultimately that Biden has a strong story to articulate, including low Black unemployment and that Black wealth is up — at the same time touting an economic lift in the forgiveness of student loan debt.

The challenge, campaign officials acknowledge, is for their messaging to penetrate with Black voters.

That’s where visits from the president and surrogates come in. On Wednesday, Biden and Harris held a Philadelphia rally targeted at reaching Black voters in the critical state of Pennsylvania. In Georgia and Wisconsin, first lady Jill Biden launched “Women for Biden-Harris” and highlighted Black women-owned small businesses. Harris made several battleground state stops messaging on the administration’s investment in Black-owned businesses. Harris talked about medical debt relief in a recent Detroit visit. Also in Michigan, the campaign launched a program targeting Black-owned small businesses, something that will be expanded to other battleground states. 

In Wisconsin, the Biden campaign launched a pilot project in northern Milwaukee, focusing on Black neighborhoods and aimed at reaching voters they could not turn out in 2022, even after knocking on thousands of doors. They’re using a tool called relational organizing, which taps into volunteers’ personal friend and family networks to share messages, memes and videos about the campaign. Since November, the campaign reports engaging thousands of volunteers through the Milwaukee pilot program, and it says it has made tens of thousands of voter contact attempts through relational organizing. 

“Donald Trump does not care about our communities,” Fulks said. “He’s spent his entire adult life attacking us, and his entire political career making our communities worse off. And he’s now trying to dupe the press into thinking his PR stunts and photo-ops are ‘outreach.’ It’s an insult to the intellect of every voter of color.”

The campaign contrasts its investments with Trump’s rhetoric, which it calls insulting. It pointed to February, when, during Black History Month, Trump said “the Black people” would increasingly turn to him because he had been indicted multiple times.

“I got indicted a second time and a third time and a fourth time, and a lot of people said that that’s why the Black people like me, because they have been hurt so badly and discriminated against, and they actually viewed me as I’m being discriminated against,” Trump said at the Black Conservative Federation’s annual gala in February. 

Despite the efforts by the Biden team, surveys show an erosion of Black support. NBC News polling in April had Biden leading Trump 71% to 13% among Black voters, down from the 87% to 12% he won in 2020 exit polls. There are also signs that Black voters are threatening to stay home in November, with just 54% of Black voters in January 2023 saying they were enthusiastic or comfortable with a Biden run for the White House compared to 74% saying the same in February 2020. 

Trump’s campaign contends Black voters are frustrated with the Biden administration over economic policies as well as his posture toward undocumented immigrants, charging that the president is favoring their interests over Black communities. When it comes to outreach, the Trump campaign simply highlighted the former president’s visits to Atlanta and Harlem and the Bronx in New York.

Trump is tapping some outside organizations to help facilitate outreach for his campaign, said Diante Johnson, president of the Black Conservative Federation.

The group will deploy 100 canvassers across six counties in Georgia, North Carolina, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania. 

“We have somewhat taken the lead in ensuring that November’s a complete success for the Republican Party amongst the Black community,” Johnson said. 

In February, Trump allies announced they would be rolling out initiatives to reach Black voters through various coalition groups. A Trump campaign official said Wednesday it soon planned to launch a coalition with a policy plan to underscore how Black and Latino Americans would benefit from Trump’s agenda. The campaign plans to contrast Trump’s policies with Biden’s “destructive policies,” according to the official.

“President Trump’s outreach to minority voters is straightforward: he shows up, listens, and makes it clear that we’ll be better off with him as President, just like we were four years ago,” Janiyah Thomas, the Trump campaign’s Black media director, said in a statement. “The Biden campaign sees that President Trump is up to 23% in the polls with Black voters, a record high that we haven’t seen in decades.”

But Quentin James, founder and president of the Collective PAC, predicted that the numbers will tick up for Biden post-convention and Labor Day, when voters really start tuning in to the race. He also noted that while polls have been bad for Biden, actual elections, including the midterms and special elections in various states, have been mostly favorable to Democrats.  

James dismissed what Trump characterizes as outreach to Black voters, including a rally in the Bronx.

“They think that these people with tattoos on their face [will] convince Black voters to maybe vote Republican? When everything from their policies to their rhetoric really shows extreme disregard for Black people and Black voters?” James said. 

Wrestling over the Latino vote 

With messaging, the Biden campaign began early with Latino voters, launching Spanish-language ads last August. The Biden camp says it has spent $25 million in Hispanic media already since last year, including Spanish-language radio and targeted buys for La Liga and ESPN Deportes. 

Biden’s one-hour sit-down with Univision highlighted outreach to the Latino community. Trump’s campaign noted the former president has sat down with both Univision and Telemundo.

The campaign has recorded radio pieces with different Spanish accents, according to the corresponding media market, a Biden campaign official familiar with Latino strategy said. Some of the radio ads target Cubans in Florida, Puerto Ricans in Pennsylvania and Mexicans in Arizona and Nevada. Others were recorded in “Spanglish,” which is more popular with younger voters, the campaign says. This spring, the campaign is airing six weeks of ads across battlegrounds at a cost of $30 million and that includes in Hispanic media and radio. 

Meanwhile, AdImpact, a firm that tracks ad spending and airings across the country, has not seen any Spanish-language ad spending from the Trump campaign or its affiliated committees since he became the GOP presumptive nominee. 

“President Trump is showing up and delivering a message of opportunity and prosperity for all, and that is why he [is] rapidly building to a historic share of Hispanic votes,” Alvarez said.

In addition to the Biden spending, in April, the Latino group Somos Votantes, a liberal nonprofit, and its political action committee announced plans to spend $57 million to turn out Latino voters for Biden.  

Biden campaign officials argue their messaging on abortion rights, gun control, protecting the Affordable Care Act, the president’s work to cap insulin prices, and creating new jobs will ultimately win out among these groups. They also cast Trump’s past rhetoric as offensive, including his declaring immigrants were “poisoning the blood of our country.”

Matt Barreto, a pollster who also works as a consultant to the Biden campaign, didn’t buy Republicans’ contention that they are winning over Latinos, saying his own surveys show when it comes to issues like taxes, abortion and health care, Latinos are aligned with Biden.   

“Show me policy data where you’re starting to win over Latinos on policy issues? What are they conservative on? Where’s the shift? There isn’t,” Barreto said. 

An NBC News poll in January showed Biden held a 35% approval rating among Latinos. Biden and Trump were tied among Latino voters (Trump 42% and Biden 41%) who were asked whom they would vote for in a rematch. In 2020, Biden won 65% of Latino votes, compared to 32% for Trump.

Biden officials note, however, that in the 2022 midterms, a national narrative derived from polling sent all kinds of warning signs to Democrats that they were going to bleed Latino voters. In reality, Democrats won the Pennsylvania Latino vote 3 to 1 and in Nevada 2 to 1. Biden officials say Democrats increased their share of Latino voters in both Arizona and Nevada despite months of predictions that the electorate would flee to Republicans. 

The challenge, Barreto said, is getting the message to the right voters. Barreto said in his May survey of three states — California, Nevada and Arizona — where Biden led among Latinos by at least 20 points in each state, the more Latinos knew about Biden’s policies, the greater the likelihood they’d vote for the president. Trump led, however, among those who knew little about Biden’s agenda.   

“What that tells me is that as the Biden campaign gets their information out,” Barreto said, “it resonates.”



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