Rafael Bernal, The Hill, April 14, 2020
Social distancing measures are pushing political campaigns online ahead of November’s election, a move that poses new challenges for reaching minority voters, particularly those with limited or no internet access.
Internet usage and media consumption varies among demographic groups, meaning the campaigns for President Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden are having to target different groups in different ways.
Eighty-two percent of white households have computers at home, compared with 58 percent for black households and 57 percent of Hispanics, according to the Pew Research Center.
But the 2019 study also found that smartphone usage was comparable across the board, creating an opportunity for politicians to reach minority voters.
“The conversation that’ll be missing this year at the [household] doors if we don’t get this thing fixed, it’ll happen over their phones,” said Chuck Rocha, architect of Hispanic outreach for Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who ended his White House bid last week and endorsed Biden on Monday.
While the Trump campaign is expected to use its considerable financial resources to mount a digital campaign on a massive scale, the Biden camp is focusing its efforts on weekly calls with community leaders across the country, such as African American faith leaders.
The Biden campaign said it is building an African American Leadership Council in each state with the calls and looking for participants to expand the campaign’s message to their communities by word of mouth.
The campaign is similarly engaging directly with Hispanic and Asian American and Pacific Islander leaders, getting its message out through conference calls in the absence of door-to-door engagements.
Democrats are pursuing the least-likely-to-participate minority voters, who in 2018 were key for the party’s House win, to boost the level of turnout they will need to be successful in November.
“While the coronavirus restrictions have caused us to adapt the work we’re doing in the field, we’re continuing to reach communities of color through phone banking, texting, TV, radio, digital, and more,” said Fabiola Rodriguez, a spokeswoman for the House Democrats’ campaign arm, which has outraised its GOP counterpart so far during this election cycle.
Rocha said he’s concerned that Democratic investment in minority voters will be translated to an online version of the usual last-minute field work to try to drum up turnout, rather than a consistent investment in convincing those voters.
“What I’m begging is that they treat a Latino voter like a white voter, and they will perform like a white voter in terms of turnout,” he said.