Donald Trump’s lead in 2024 election polls has him eyeing a long-shot gambit: attracting a larger share of Black voters than any Republican presidential candidate in modern history.
Despite a long history of racially divisive comments and repeated contacts with White nationalists, Trump now enjoys the some of the highest ratings among Black voters of any candidate from his party, according to some national and swing state polls. That’s because discontent with Joe Biden, especially on economic issues, has eroded the president’s support in a group that is likely to be key to his bid to win reelection in November.
The Trump campaign’s push, kicking off once he gets through the primaries and including television ads and outreach by prominent Black supporters aimed at portraying the billionaire as sympathetic to the working class, is ambitious. Allies are aiming for Trump to collect as much as a quarter of the Black vote — well above the 5% to 12% that surveys show he won in 2020.
In a race that’s virtually certain to be close, the focus highlights how Trump aims to target some key traditionally Democratic constituencies to sap support for Biden in swing states like Georgia, North Carolina and Michigan that will be critical to victory.
“Regardless of how you think of Donald Trump or his campaign, he is doing the politically smart thing,” said Michael Steele, the former chairman of the Republican National Committee and a Trump critic. “He is seizing on a weakness of the Democratic nominee and the Democratic Party.”
His campaign has no illusions that he can win a majority of the Black vote next year. But if he can shave even a few points off Biden’s support, that could be decisive in some swing states. Earning more support from Black voters could also help Trump make up for his mercurial relationship with suburban women, turned off by Republicans’ efforts nationwide to restrict abortion access.
Biden’s favorability among Black voters in seven swing states has slipped 7 percentage points since October, to 61% this month, according to a Bloomberg News/Morning Consult poll. Trump’s held steady at about 25%.
National surveys show a more mixed picture, with the share of Black voters saying they would back the former president ranging from 14% to more than 30%.
Biden’s campaign has repeatedly argued that the polls now aren’t an accurate predictor of voter sentiment on Election Day. Sam Fulwood III, who has surveyed Black public opinion for the African American Research Collaborative, urged skepticism of national polls with small samples of Black voters, who he calls “the real swing voters.”
“They swing not between Democrats and Republicans, but between showing up and not showing up. Overwhelmingly Black voters who do show up show up for Democrats,” he said.
Biden enjoyed strong turnout among Black voters in the 2020 election, winning about 90% of their votes. That race took place amid a global racial reckoning following the murder of George Floyd, an African American man who died at the hands of White police officers. Trump took a combative approach to the protests and unrest that followed, in line with the racially charged rhetoric that was a hallmark of his 2016 campaign.
He repeatedly insisted that Barack Obama, the first Black president, wasn’t born in the U.S., despite evidence to the contrary. In 2017, he said there were some “very fine people” at White-supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia. Just after announcing his campaign last year, Trump dined with White supremacist leader and Holocaust denier Nick Fuentes at his Mar-a-Lago estate.
But at least in polls, voters are signaling that their belief that Trump could better solve economic problems like inflation outweighs distaste with his past comments. It is part of a larger challenge that has bedeviled Biden’s reelection efforts: how to rekindle the anxiety about Trump that drove voters in 2020.
In addition to pastors, celebrities and former top administration officials, the Trump campaign will lean heavily on a handful of young Black congressmen and state politicians to help make their case.
The former president’s potential list of running mates also includes a handful of prominent Black politicians, including Republican Representatives Byron Donalds and Wesley Hunt as well as Ben Carson, Trump’s former secretary of Housing and Urban Development, said a source briefed on the internal discussions.
“I’m not trying to tell Black people to vote Republican. I am telling them to vote for Trump,” said Darrell Scott, an informal adviser to the campaign who was one of the first Black pastors to support Trump. “The party still has not shaken that anti-Black reputation, but they do not see that in Trump.”
The campaign also intends to hit Biden for spending on overseas conflicts like Ukraine and Gaza at the expense of domestic pocketbook issues that matter to voters.
“This will be our strongest effort yet with the African American community,” said Jason Miller, a senior adviser to the Trump campaign, who said much of Trump’s message will be tied to the state of the economy.
Biden campaign officials argue that once the race picks up and voters realize the only real choice is between Trump and the president, traditional Democratic constituencies like Black voters, young people and women will be turned off by Trump’s inflammatory rhetoric and support Biden once again.
By more than a 6-to-1 ratio, Black voters in swing states say the economy is better off under Biden than it was under Trump, according to the Bloomberg poll.
Still, the party is already trying to reverse the slide with the constituency. The Democratic National Committee unveiled a multimillion-dollar advertising campaign featuring Black voters and highlighting Biden’s efforts to reduce health-care costs and support small businesses. It’s been an uphill fight so far.
“Black Americans do not feel that they are reaping the reward from being so loyal to the Democratic Party,” said Ronnie Oliva, a political strategist who has advised Democratic stars like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. “There’s a desperation there just to find someone, anyone. They’re thinking that at least Trump says it how he means it, so maybe if we can get our agenda in front of him, he’ll get it done.”
(—With assistance from Stephanie Lai)
©2023 Bloomberg L.P. Visit bloomberg.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
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