As the country approaches the coming election cycle, much has been made of the Black community’s fading commitment to the Democratic Party. The concern encompasses everything from support for President Biden to disillusionment with the party as an institution. Yet, it’s widely understood that Black voters are instrumental to the Democratic coalition, especially in several swing states in which Black turnout for Democrats exceeded the margin of victory in 2020. With this as background, and with the Black electorate largely in a state of frustration, how might Democrats convince Black voters to turn out?

One approach, championed by party operatives, suggests that communicating the work the president has done on behalf community will go a long way toward allaying the disaffection among Black voters. The problem is that there’s nothing to support this claim—anywhere. Generally, this kind of claim belongs to a literature in political science associated with policy-feedback effects. Briefly, policy feedback effects occur when policy, the product of politics, promotes political mobilization. For the most part, this is about those who benefit from said policy mobilizing to protect it (the policy). Applying it to the current situation, Black people, in recognition of how they benefit from Biden’s policies, will turn out to support him, protecting these policy gains.

This is nice in theory, but there’s nothing in the way of research that tests the proposition whatsoever, at least in the Black community. So, what’s the solution? One proven way to turnout the Black vote is through the political empowerment model. Here, turnout is largely driven by a co-ethnic, in this case Black, running for office. This worked to great effect when Obama was on the ballot: Black turnout was never higher. Indeed, at the national level from 2012-2016, Black turnout declined by roughly 7 percent, to say nothing of what happened in swing states. However, from 2016-2020, Black turnout recovered roughly half of what it lost in 2016.

Black Insights Research sought to discover why Black turnout rebounded in the 2020 election cycle. Since Obama wasn’t on the ballot, we hypothesized that it was the presence of Donald Trump and his bid for a second term. Of course, he was on the ballot in 2016 when Black turnout declined. The difference is that after 4 years in office, we believe, the Black community concluded that he posed an existential threat to the race.

To assess our claims, Black Insights Research teamed up with TargetSmart. We conducted focus groups across the country and followed up with a national survey. Each was stratified by propensity to vote, producing two groups: low and high-propensity voters. The focus groups lay bare the disaffection the Black community feels toward the Democratic Party and President Biden. This was a common sentiment among both groups. At the same time, both groups also acknowledge how Trump, MAGA, and the GOP threaten the Black community. Turning to the survey and its embedded experiments, we show that threat has no effect on high-propensity voters: they’re going to turnout regardless of threat. Having said that, threat—from both Trump and MAGA, and the GOP—tends to move low-propensity voters from apathy to activism. It’s worth noting that empowerment has no discernable effect on turnout.

If Democrats hope to defeat the GOP and Trump, they must move beyond the narrative that simply communicating to the Black community Biden’s deed(s) on their behalf, will result in turnout. There’s no proof this is a valid strategy. As an alternative, we suggest – at least in the immediacy, reminding the Black community about the stakes should Trump prevail.