What Biden needs to say to persuade Black voters at presidential debate

The historic primetime presidential debate between U.S. President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump will be consequential for Black voters, an influential voting bloc that both Biden and Trump have heavily courted on the campaign trail.

Though Biden won 92% of the Black vote in the 2020 presidential election, compared to the 8% who voted for Trump, national polling shows the president has a way to go to reach the level of support he did four years ago in November. 

As some Black Americans express frustrations over rising costs, the Israel-Hamas war in Gaza, and other policy issues, Trump has seemingly gained traction with a small but notable share of Black voters. The latest Pew Research Center polling data finds that 77% of Black voters prefer Biden to Trump (18%); however, 49% say would prefer a different candidate altogether. 

Democratic strategists tell theGrio that the choice for Black voters between Biden and Trump is clear; however, they expressed President Biden’s need to paint the obvious contrast between what he has achieved for Black communities and how things were far worse when Trump was in office.

“At the end of the day, you’ve got to make your accomplishments feel real to the people that you’re asking to vote for you,” says Jamarr Brown, executive director of Color of Change PAC. He tells theGrio, “President Biden has accomplished quite a bit. Both President Biden and the Democratic Congress.”

Brown said Biden has to highlight what he sees as his laundry list of accomplishments, including slashing poverty among Black children through the Child Tax Credit passed through the 2021 American Rescue Plan, extending debt relief to Black farmers, and a record $16 billion for HBCUs.

Antjuan Seawright, a Democratic strategist who advises national campaigns, told theGrio that despite pronouncements from Trump and his campaign, President Biden has the “facts” on his side as it relates to his record on policies impacting Black and brown communities.

“The facts say that crime is down. The facts indicate that the Black unemployment rate is at lowest. The facts say that Biden has created a record amount of jobs. The facts say that Black small businesses are thriving like they never had before,” said Seawright. 

In this combination of photos, President Joe Biden (left) speaks last August in Salt Lake City, and former President Donald Trump speaks a month prior in Las Vegas. (Photo: AP, file)

Seawright noted that Trump and his camp are leveraging the mass spreading of misinformation and disinformation online and emphasized the importance of Biden setting the record straight on the debate stage.

“It’s now to the point where most people are getting their news online, and people view it as actual news, and it’s not,” he complained. 

Seawright argued that throughout his career as a politician and businessman, Trump has used the art of repetition to peddle lies until it is believed by the masses. He explained, “He’ll just go on to the next lie and repeat that enough … I think it’s dangerous because these things are starting to actually penetrate our community and making headway.” 

Democratic strategist Joel Payne says Trump is “very transactional” when addressing Black voters. 

“It’s not, I share your sensibilities. I see your worldview. I understand what it’s like to be in your shoes. It’s look what I’ve done for you,” Payne told theGrio. “And I guess what I would say is that works, I think, for certain pockets of Black voters. I don’t think it carries as a far and wide message.”

By contrast, Payne, a former Black media director for Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign, said Biden does well by being sensitive to and understanding people’s “lived experience.” 

“There’s got to be a matching of the ‘I have focused and worked hard to do these things for you’ with ‘I get your experience and your struggle,’” he argued. “I understand what it’s like to be a Black mother in the inner city of Detroit or Philadelphia and working two jobs and also trying to make sure your kids have a great education.”

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Seawright similarly argued that Biden must avoid “oversimplifying” his message, advising: “He has to speak directly to the American people on our street and not speak the language of K Street [Washington].”

While Payne expects that President Biden will broaden his message for the larger American electorate, he noted an effective strategy would be to “adopt” the language of Black voters when discussing mainstream policy issues that ultimately impact Black Americans disproportionately, like the economy, abortion and immigration. He suggested the president also address the concerns about “what’s going on in the Middle East and about getting a ceasefire and making sure that Palestinian lives are valued.”

Brown of Color of Change PAC said it’s also important for Biden to connect his achievements with actual Black Americans who have benefited from his policies, much like the White House has been doing over the past several months, like the mother and daughter in Las Vegas President Biden met with in March who were able to secure their first home through his COVID-19 stimulus package.

“At the end of the day, you’ve got to make your accomplishments feel real to the people that you’re asking to vote for you,” he said. “Donald Trump is going to get on stage. He is going to manipulate the facts and try to manipulate them to his favor. But President Biden’s got to show the real stories of people, and not just facts, figures and names of legislation.”

Though some Black voters may feel wary about re-electing the 81-year-old president, Brown cautioned that it’s “not just a vote for Joe Biden” but “a vote for your community.”

“You should love yourself, your family and your community enough to see who the best candidate is,” he explained. “Who is working on behalf of our people, who is trying to still work on behalf of our people.”

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