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New Swing-State Ads Try to Tell Black Voters: Yes, Biden’s Looking Out for You

Enthusiasm is at dangerous lows among the constituency that made Joe Biden the Democratic nominee. One group is trying to do something about it.

South Carolina Congressman Jim Clyburn stands behind Joe Biden, applauding.
Spencer Platt/Getty Images
South Carolina Representative Jim Clyburn was instrumental in getting Black voters to back Joe Biden as a presidential candidate. Democrats hope to retain this critical constituency in the upcoming midterms.

Ahead of an election cycle where Democrats are in danger of suffering across the board losses due to depressed turnout among key constituencies, a nonprofit group targeting African American voters is releasing a set of digital and radio ads aimed at touting President Biden’s accomplishments and increasing Black turnout.*

The organization, Building Back Together, is releasing the ads in three key states: Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Georgia. The ads are targeting Black communities in those states and were shared first with The New Republic.

One ad focuses on Biden’s plan to cut child poverty and lower health care costs. Another ad points to “a historic deal” Biden made “to deliver clean drinking water to millions of Black homes.” The third, a radio ad, focuses on how “Biden’s plan to cut childhood poverty worked. The biggest drop in child poverty ever.”

The ads are part of a $500,000 ad buy that includes digital and radio ads focusing on the accomplishments the Biden administration wants to highlight. The three states where Build Back Together is airing these ads are all states that Biden won by small margins and that have important gubernatorial and Senate races this cycle.

They are also states where Black voters voted for Biden over Donald Trump in 2020 by double digits. Biden won 92 percent of the Black vote in Pennsylvania to Trump’s 7 percent. In Georgia, of the nearly five million total votes in 2020, Biden won 81 percent of voters of color to Trump’s 18 percent. In Wisconsin, of the 3.2 million people who voted, 92 percent of the Black vote went for Biden while just 8 percent went for Trump. Two of the states—Pennsylvania and Wisconsin—are also places where the Democratic nominees for governor in 2018 won their races with strong support among Black voters while not winning a majority of white voters. Those candidates-now-governors, Tony Evers and Tom Wolf, are in their governors’ mansions because of support among Black voters. Evers won by just under 30,000 votes (a razor-thin margin in statewide elections), and Wolf won by about 840,000 votes out of five million.

There’s been a general fear in Democratic circles about depressed turnout in the 2022 midterms, while Republicans are undeniably energized. It doesn’t help Democrats that Biden’s approval numbers average around 40 percent while his disapproval numbers are up, on average, to 53 percent.

Democratic strategists and pollsters I talked with on Tuesday pointed to another foreboding fact about outreach to African American votersit’s come way too late in the past. These Building Back Together ads are a sign that the larger Bidenworld apparatus is trying to correct that.

“This is what many of us have said for a long time, which is the Democratic Party cannot take Black voters for granted, and we have to show up earlier,” Democratic strategist Karen Finney said. “And Biden to his credit certainly did that early in his election. Black voters had been loyal to him, and his campaign did a good job not taking Black voters for granted. But what this reads as is them thinking about not just 2022 but this bigger premise not to take voters for granted and to show up early.”

Democratic pollster Cornell Belcher said, “I’m surprised that they’re spending money this early and in this targeted way. I’m surprised because, quite frankly, it’s something a lot of us have been arguing that progressives and the party do for years, and it is, ‘Don’t start this conversation a month out from the election.’”

The ads are a clear response to plummeting support among African Americans. Biden’s approval in the African American community is still high, but it’s been sinking. Recent NBC News polling has found Biden’s approval rating among Black voters dipping to an alarming 64 percent, down from 83 percent in April.

“Some of the most dramatic drops in [Biden’s] approval ratings are from voters who supported him in the last election,” Belcher said, pointing to younger and African American voters respectively. “Those erosions there can’t be ignored. It’s not that they have turned against Joe Biden and this administration. There’s just a sense out there that Democrats in Washington aren’t focused on the agenda that’s important to them and getting things done.”

Any Democrat who wants to see a statewide victory anywhere in 2022 should find this disturbing. The fear is not that a wave of Black voters will vote Republican (although some will switch parties), it’s that they will stay home under the impression that Biden has largely ignored the African American community.

Finney warned that as the midterms loom closer, Black voters will also be the targets of misinformation. “We know from 2020, 2018, and 2016 that Black and brown voters were targeted with misinformation and disinformation at higher rates,” Finney said. “It is also important to do this work early to start to inoculate against what will be a barrage of misinformation and disinformation from the right.”

One of Biden’s big problems with Black enthusiasm has little to do with disinformation. Congressional Democrats’ failure to pass a comprehensive voting rights bill or to reform the filibuster has dispirited wide swaths of party activists. Democratic candidates and party leaders argued for months for an urgent need for new voting rights protections to prevent voter disenfranchisement of minorities in future elections, especially in the South. But that looks dead now, because Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema (and perhaps other senators) weren’t willing to change the filibuster to pass it, and a lot of activists think Biden didn’t put much heart into the fight.

The Biden administration has had major victories it has been pointing to and will continue to shout from the rooftops—a Covid-19 relief package; an infrastructure bill; soon a new, young Supreme Court justice; and a reduction in child poverty. But some of the priorities Biden and his team promised on the campaign trail are yet to become reality. And 64 percent among a loyal constituency is a pretty dangerous place for an incumbent to be.

* This article originally mischaracterized the organization Building Back Together as a super PAC.