Trump tries to attract Black voters on the margins with ads on immigration

Former President Donald Trump arrives at Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson Airport ahead of the first Presidential Debate on Thursday, June 27, 2024. (Matthew Pearson/WABE)

Former President Donald Trump is hoping to reach Black voters across the country on bread-and-butter issues like inflation and the economy. But in central Georgia, the campaign has an even narrower scope: transgender students and immigration issues. 

Video advertisements targeted to Black voters in the Macon area claim President Joe Biden is paying the rent of undocumented immigrants and allowing men to play girls’ sports. Trump then repeated these claims during the debate. 

“The hope isn’t to win all Black voters in Georgia. They know that that’s not gonna happen. They’re not even going to come close,” said Andra Gillespie, a political science professor at Emory. “What they’re hoping is that they reach, you know, 12,000 Black voters.”

That would have been the difference between winning and losing in 2020. 

One video advertisement depicted a phone banker trying to encourage former Biden voters to vote for him again. 

A headline from the British tabloid Daily Mail then flashed across the video reading, “500 dollars a month for illegal immigrants.” The headline referred to a Michigan rental assistance program for some refugees and legal immigrants who are employed but live in poverty. 

Research from the nonpartisan nonprofit found that people in the country illegally do not qualify for the program. The only people who received the rental assistance were all verified refugees and legal immigrants. 

According to data compiled by Andrew Arenge, a researcher at the University of Pennsylvania’s Program on Opinion Research and Election Studies, Trump’s super PAC spent anywhere from $13,000 to $18,000 targeting voters in the Macon area with this ad in May. That same data shows that the Trump campaign has spent nearly half a million dollars on digital ads related to immigration nationwide. 

“It’s a matter of testing different messages with different groups,” said David Schweidel, an Emory professor of marketing. “A campaign might look … to identify individuals based on their affinity for topics that are associated with different groups.” 

The campaign used messaging around transgender people and immigrants on the radio as well. Another Trump ad repeats these claims but uses the word “handouts” when talking about immigrants and derides the Biden administration for addressing transgender issues as a civil rights issue. 

“Donald Trump has never shied away from making racialized comments,” Gillespie said. “And so I think the question here is whether or not those racialized comments actually hit Black ears in the way that the campaign intends for them to.”

Polling from Pew this May showed that a majority of Black Americans ranked improving education, the economy and social security as what they think the president’s top priority should be. 

“I think that [Republicans] might misunderstand some of the misgivings that some Black voters have about immigration,” said Gillespie. “It just reinforces the problems that Republicans have with Black voters and the perception that has been built and reinforced over the last 60 years about their blind spots about race.”