Trump and Messaging to “African” Americans

The challenging of micro-targeting to different strata.

One of the challenges of messaging to any target is segmentation. Pros know it is part of more than just a ground game plan for door knocking planning. Segmentation also helps refine your message. It is important to know your potential voters as an audience. In political messaging, you may intentionally have multiple audiences. Such has been the case with Donald Trump’s messaging to black American voters last week. In Milwaukee Trump delivered a speech loaded with talking points about black American economic and educational challenges. Trump emphasized an oft cited belief that black American voters have displaced political loyalties to the point of dysfunction. A firestorm of criticism followed. Pundits and news anchors attacked Trump and his media surrogates on two fronts:

  1. The audience at the rally was overwhelmingly white and suburban. (The event was held in the suburbs with Trump’s emergent Republican base in attendance.)
  2. Trump openly and loudly exposed a sore spot that is embarrassing to higher class black Americans: black despair.

From Facebook

“Then he screwed up by lumping us all into one batch, telling us all the ways that we’re basically not worth shit, “so what do we have to lose…” Explain to me how that is encouraging. All black America is NOT on the same level. We are not all broke and poor. I for one am educated, have worked in corporate America for 20yrs, my children are NOT delinquents, we own a home, and my family wants for nothing… Obama’s presidency didnt affect me and mine at all from a financial standpoint. To the black community that is doing well, his comments were embarrassing and debilitating at best😠. He just needs to stick to the teleprompter and stop inserting himself. I dont see how ppl like us will still vote for him after comments like that. He does NOT care about or value the black community.”

The black middle class strata often feels as though it is ok for another black American to discuss our crisis, but white politicians are forbidden to use the “p” and “n” words — poverty and nihilism. Unless however, that politician is a white democrat.

Black Americans have got a conditioned loyalty to the Democrat Party. This loyalty also grants Democrats and liberals permission to market messages and further solicit black voter loyalty. Republicans get raised hands holding yellow cards of caution should they dare communicate to black voters.

These nuances are only part of the reason Republican political consultants struggle with messaging to black and brown Americans. In a previous post I mentioned that capacity to engage across race in not an inherited skill-set passed down through the consultant class network. The complication that impacts all Americans is our formative discomfort identifying and profiling race. Poor skill at discussing issues related to race is largely a matter of informed practice and cycles of refinement.

Take note for instance how often we hear someone say “I don’t see color” when caught with an awkward question about how someone looks. In contrast, it more naturally flows from white Americans to comment, “I just hired a new woman.” Say “I just hired a new black” and you’re risking scorn. We even teach white children to whisper when noting another kid’s skin color. We shame children into a cultural incompetence. This formative race discussion discomfort is a primary reason we can’t transcend the construct of segmented realities based on race and economics. Our messages require segmentation even as many are rightly concerned about identity politics run amok.

Political mistakes and ill-conceived plans and misplaced attacks flow from this challenge. Trump is thought to have made a mistake with his speech. In fact, time will prove its value to his campaign via two audiences.

  1. The white Americans who were listening to Trump: college age and guilt tripped white millennial professionals. (See How White Americans Are Impacted by Trump’s Messaging on African Americans.)
  2. The black Americans who were listening to him courtesy of a plethora of media replays.

Trump effectively reached an audience by “bank shotting” his message off the backboard of his base to an audience of black Americans who never would have attended his rally in large numbers; unless in protest.

From Facebook

“and when he does have an event with Black voters IE South Carolina, the media either makes those in attendance to be outliers or social media makes them out to be race traitors. So again who was supposed to be in attendance when he gave his speech?”

Trump’s speech is one example of the difference between message “outreach” versus minority engagement. True engagement strategy looks to impact likely voters and segments to achieve empirical metrics. For example, our strategy in Georgia often spoke to the middle class black American community about access to economic opportunities in business and educational choice. The goal was more focused on likely minority voters (some dangerously called low hanging fruit) rather than the broadly cast net to all racial minorities. That worked, and our gains in new voters across race had been heralded.

Trump’s recent messaging is properly categorized as the PR functions of outreach and media combat. It challenges the mainstream media narrative that had created low black American and low race-conscious white American approval ratings of the candidate. Trump is effectively muddying the waters of public perception regarding race, Hillary Clinton, and political party voting patterns amongst blacks.

The SC event with black Americans in attendance is in contrast “engagement.” This smaller group even had the opportunity for Q&A on policy issues with Trump. This sort of engagement is less favorably covered by media and less understood by political consultants. It is harder to conduct, but much more effective at changing hearts and minds. Minority Voter Engagement is the audience, not the messenger! The audience you see may not be the audience who hears.

Engagement Insider Tip for Trump

Bottom Line — He’s made a good start. His team should stay the course and look to highlight some neutral policy leaders who can present ideas of a black uplift and empowerment agenda. Partner with some black Chambers of Commerce and other groups for business policy forums. Go after likely voters. Pivot the minority message now underway to a more aspirational reflection of what’s possible. Have Trump and black American professional surrogates lift up the idea recreating “black Wall Street.” Polling pending, engagement messaging should focus on an audience of the black business class and black American millennials. For Latinos — 3rd and 4th generation Catholics and naturalized citizens. These are the likely voters for turnout as political advertisement and ground game develops.

Leo Smith

Related Articles:

Why Georgia Accounted for 25% of the black American Delegates and Alternates at the 2016 RNC Convention.