Joe Biden’s PR problem is not Black voters’ fault

OPINION: President Biden is losing support from Black voters, but blaming Black voters is an all-too-easy copout. If the president wants to win next year, he needs to address his communications problem.

President Biden Delivers Remarks On Terrorist Attacks In Israel
U.S. President Joe Biden delivers remarks on the Hamas terrorist attacks in Israel in the State Dining Room of the White House October 10, 2023 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

Editor’s note: The following article is an op-ed, and the views expressed are the author’s own. Read more opinions on theGrio.

Earlier this year, the federal government canceled all of my student loan debt — that is over $275,000 in debt that I no longer have hanging around my neck, and I am not alone. But when you ask the average Black voter, especially here in Georgia, if they know about that, the answer, overwhelmingly, is “no.” 

Same goes for other Biden administration policy wins that are bringing resources to Black communities — the Inflation Reduction Act, the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act and even the American Rescue Plan, which gave folks a $1,400 direct deposit to help make it through the pandemic. 

Despite innumerable challenges moving key pieces of his agenda forward, the president has made significant progress on policies that will help Black communities. But if you ask a Black voter what Joe Biden has done for them, you’ll get side-eye and silence. They don’t know because the administration is not doing enough to tell them. 

So, it’s not surprising to me that Joe Biden is losing support with Black voters. Like Janet Jackson asked years ago, we want to know, “What have you done for me lately?” Without hearing a clear answer from the president, Black voters are starting to sour on him. And because racism is real and scapegoating is easier than taking responsibility for your actions, I won’t be surprised when fingers point to Black voters rather than the president and his team. Apathy or laziness will be cited over the legitimate cynicism that too many Black voters feel because they think the Biden administration has done nothing for us. 

But blaming Black voters is an all-too-easy copout. If the president wants to win next year, he needs Black voters. To get Black voters, he needs to address his communications problem.    

I work in Georgia — a key battleground state — and research conducted by my affiliated organization, New Georgia Project, has repeatedly shown that many Black Georgians are not motivated to vote by a political party or candidate; we are motivated to vote by issues and by understanding that our vote has and can continue to help bring resources and improvements to our communities. To feel motivated to vote next year, Black people need to know how our past vote for the president has gotten us more money in our pockets and food on our kitchen tables. This is how Black voters in Georgia — and likely other states — understand our political power. 

But, because of Joe Biden’s communications problem, Black voters’ perceptions of power, at least in Georgia, have fallen considerably over the past two years. In 2022, 70% of Black Georgia voters felt their vote was “very” or “somewhat” powerful. In 2023, that number dropped to 59%, portending a bleak picture of Black voter turnout next year if the president doesn’t make major changes to his communications strategy. 

Ads in majority-Black cities in key swing states are a good start, but where are the efforts on the ground — the community meetings, the Sunday services at Black churches, the roundtables with Black leaders? Where are the bus tours with stops in Black cities and towns and the Black surrogates? Where are the rallies with Black women who have had their student loan debt forgiven and the small business owners whose lives and careers have been positively affected by the administration’s policies? Even if these tactics kick off by next summer, that may already be too little, too late.   

Black voters need to know that because we showed up, we got the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, which includes $42 billion to expand broadband internet access, significantly decreasing the digital divide and helping folks get and stay online. We got the Inflation Reduction Act, which lowers prescription drug costs for Medicare recipients and will create millions of new, good-paying jobs in states across the country, including in swing states like Arizona, Pennsylvania, Michigan and right here in Georgia. Add to that list our first Black, woman Supreme Court justice, $127 billion in student loan debt relief, and $7 billion for HBCUs. But as the old adage goes, if you pass a policy in Washington but the voters you need to win don’t hear about it and don’t understand how it benefits them, did it really happen? 

Black voters need to know about these investments if the president wants to win a second term next year. Black voters are the political powerbrokers of the future, and we, as well as the president, need to understand the power that we wield. The president’s policy achievements are because of us, and he cannot expect to achieve more, let alone win a second term, if he does not understand that. He needs to fix his PR problem and he needs to do it now. 

Kendra Cotton headshot

 Kendra Cotton is the chief executive officer of New Georgia Project Action Fund and its affiliated organization, New Georgia Project. She is a lifelong Southerner and has spent her professional career promoting civic engagement and advocating for underrepresented communities to become more involved in our democracy.

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