Trump Campaign Sought to Deter Millions of Black Americans From Voting in 2016

The Trump campaign categorized millions of Black Americans as individuals to be actively discouraged from voting in the 2016 presidential race, according to a report from the British television network Channel 4.

According to details published on Monday, Channel 4 obtained the huge cache of data used by the Trump campaign working with the now-defunct data firm Cambridge Analytica to categorize Americans, oftentimes based on race, in order to target them in with political ads on social media.

Nearly 200 million Americans were profiled into one of eight categories called “audiences” in the data collected by the Trump campaign and Cambridge Analytica using specialized algorithms. One of those audiences was titled “Deterrence” and referred to a group of voters that the campaign sought to discourage from taking part in the 2016 presidential election between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton.

Individuals who were listed as being Black, Asian, Hispanic or “Other” made up 54 percent of the “Deterrence” label, according to the Channel 4 report. More than 3.5 million Black voters were part of that category.

The information was used to target advertising on Facebook in 16 battleground states in 2016. Notably, a number of those states saw their voter participation rates drop significantly among Black residents, including in Wisconsin, where one in five Black voters who took part in the 2012 election did not vote in 2016.

Trump ended up winning Wisconsin by just over 22,000 votes, or 0.76 percent of the total vote share.

Based on population statistics, Black voters were disproportionately placed in the “Deterrence” category set up by the Trump campaign. In Georgia, for instance, although Black residents make up about 32 percent of that state’s population, they accounted for 61 percent of the voter profiles in the “Deterrence” category.

In many instances, the Trump campaign used targeted advertisements that sought to dissuade Black voters from turning out. One ad featured a Black woman who pretended to abandon a script midway through the video, saying she’s “not that good” of an actor as to be able to speak in support of the Democratic Party’s presidential nominee.

It’s been estimated that, across the country as a whole, around 2 million Black voters who took part in voting for former President Barack Obama in 2012 did not participate in 2016. It remains to be determined to what extent this widespread deterrence campaign was responsible for that decrease in voter participation.

In speaking to Channel 4, many civil rights groups described the efforts by the Trump campaign to deter voting as another form of voter “suppression.” They have also called upon Facebook to make greater disclosures over how campaigns use targeted information, in light of these new details.

Jamal Watkins, vice president of civic engagement for the NAACP, decried the actions that were taken by the Trump campaign in 2016.

“We use data — similar to voter file data — but it’s to motivate, persuade and encourage folks to participate,” Watkins said. “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.”