2016 Trump Campaign Targeted 3.5 million Black People for Voter Suppression

“This is twenty-first century voter suppression.”

By Roland T. Flackfizer

Photo by Elliot Stallion

According to an enormous data leak obtained by the British news outlet Channel 4, President Trump’s 2016 election campaign sought to suppress voting by 3 million specific Black voters.

The leaked data showed that the 2016 Trump campaign collated data on massive swaths of voter rolls and organized them up into eight distinct categories. This totalled more than 200 million voter logs. 3.5 million Black voters were neatly placed in a bundle titled “Deterrence.”

The leak demonstrates that the Trump campaign intended to deter Black voters from casting ballots as they were more likely to vote for his opponent, Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton. The “Deterrence” list was approximately 7 million total voters of which 54% were people of color. Categories of voters in which the Trump campaign sought to encourage to vote were “overwhelmingly white.”

Trump’s top data analysts labeled the “Deterrence” list as people the campaign hoped “don’t show up to vote.” The 2016 Trump campaign crafted its digital strategy with notorious British data firm Cambridge Analytica.

Trump’s campaign spent a whopping $44 million on Facebook ads; dwarfing the mere $20 million spent by Clinton. Trump used Facebook to target swing states. The Washington Post cited this a key reason for his Electoral College victory.

The Channel 4 investigation determined that people on the “Deterrence” list were delivered highly-tailored anti-Clinton ads centered on her 1990s comments about young, Black “super-predators.” Such sentiments were used to justify sweeping anti-crime legislation in the 90s.

Vice president of the NAACP, Jamal Watkins, described the tactic as an example of ‘modern-day voter suppression.’

“The thing that’s shocking-slash-troubling about this is that there’s this category of suppression,” Watkins told Channel 4. “That ‘Deterrence’ part. So, we use data — similar to voter file data — but it’s to motivate, persuade and encourage folks to participate. We don’t use the data to say who can we deter and keep at home. That just seems — fundamentally, it’s a shift from the notion of democracy.”

Watkins said Facebook has not been entirely transparent and failed to “fully disclosed their role” in the digital ad campaign.

“It’s not ‘may the best candidate win’ at that point, it’s ‘may the best well-funded machine suppress voters and keep them at home, thereby rigging the election so that someone can win,'” Watkins elaborated.

Low numbers on Black voter turnout has been ascribed blame for why Clinton failed to secure several states such as Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin which Democrats have been able to depend on for decades. 

Channel 4’s report “has exposed the ways in which the Trump campaign used targeted digital ads to intentionally and methodically deter Black Americans from voting,” said a tweet from the African American Policy Forum, a social justice ‘think tank.’ “This is twenty-first century voter suppression.”

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