© 2024 Allbritton Journalism Institute
President Joe Biden meets with campaign volunteers at the Dr. John Bryant Community Center.
Evan Vucci/AP

Biden Has a Problem With Men. He’s Running Out of Time to Fix It.

Focus groups, polling and on-the-ground stories reveal how much trouble Biden is in even with men who should be persuadable.

RALEIGH — De’Andre Birch was confused. Sitting around a table during a focus group this month, he listened as the moderator read example after example of how the Biden administration has improved the economy. He wondered why he was hearing some of this for the first time.

“They need to start running their mouths more,” he said. A 28-year-old recent graduate student from Clayton, North Carolina, he relies on gig work to help support his family and has had trouble making ends meet. He’s pessimistic about the economy and President Joe Biden’s ability to fix it. While Birch has voted against former President Donald Trump twice, he was unsure whether he’ll vote for Biden in November or just sit this one out.

“I definitely feel alone,” he told NOTUS. Does the Democratic Party fail to reach men like him?

“Yes,” he replied.

If Biden wants to win a second term, he needs to attract men like Birch: guys who are likely to vote Democratic if they get the right message. How many men Biden has a chance with varies across populations; most older white men, for example, are tied to the Republican Party, whereas younger men of all races and non-white men in general are more likely to vote Democratic. But experts across demographics told NOTUS that for most men, the Biden campaign’s struggle will come down to two things: the economy and a feeling that Democrats don’t care about them.

And the campaign knows it. Black and Latino men are a particular concern to Biden aides, according to a source close to the campaign, who noted internal polling that showed the president shedding non-white voters in Georgia, a key swing state.

“They are seeing real weakness with minority voters across the country,” the source said.

Biden allies are actively working to find these men and convince them to get off the fence. It’s an uphill climb, and one that started months ago — far earlier than in most cycles, Democrats say. After investing millions of dollars to try to meet men where they are, Democrats say it’s still too early to tell if their efforts are showing the kind of results they need.

“It takes a lot of time and effort to break through into driving connections, especially among folks that just are not tapped into the day-to-day Washington news cycle,” said a Biden campaign official. “It’s all about, how do we break through? And our view is that this isn’t going to happen now. It’s going to take more than a year to do that.”

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As a voting bloc, men have long swung Republican. But even men who are more open to Democrats are losing enthusiasm for Biden: Recent buzzy public polling from The New York Times/Siena found Biden lagging in swing states thanks in part to lack of support among men. In a head-to-head race, Trump beat Biden by 19% of all male respondents.

Republicans, meanwhile, say they plan to build on their strong support among white men by heavily targeting Black and Latino men.

“I think that men are less disillusioned with the Democratic Party than entranced with the Republican message,” said Joan Williams, a law professor who focused on gender and class. “Republicans know how to riff off really cherished masculine tropes that have incredible power, especially men who are feeling bereft or grumpy from an economic standpoint.”

It’s difficult for Democrats to sell a positive message on the economy to men who are struggling, said Mondale Robinson, founder of the Black Male Voter Project, whose organization is in contact with more than 6 million Black men across the country.

“You see populations of Black men at 18% unemployment rate in small rural towns like Enfield, North Carolina,” Robinson said. “How do you go to these people and tell them to get excited about candidates, talking about how great the economy is, and it’s not your lived experience?”

That’s not to say Republicans will be able to easily win over Black and Latino men in huge numbers. Matt Barreto, a pollster who focuses on Latinos and works with the Biden campaign, noted that polling of Black and Latino voters is often not representative.

President Joe Biden talks after speaking at a campaign event at El Portal restaurant in Phoenix, AZ.
Biden’s campaign has run ads specifically aimed at Latino voters. Jacquelyn Martin/AP

“We are not seeing any conservative drifting, shifting, among either Blacks or Latinos,” he said. “They are still very progressive on policy issues.”

Still, Latino men are less progressive than Latina women, a trend Barreto said predates this election cycle. In 2024, Barreto says Latino men “are more likely to say they’re undecided.” They are not lost for Biden; they are just still not that into him.

“They feel they need more information,” he said. “Many people are telling researchers across the board that they just haven’t heard as much about party platforms in 2024. I don’t necessarily think that that’s the candidates’ fault.”

Biden campaign officials say they have been pushing that messaging to targeted populations for months. They’ve seen some positive signs in polling but know they still have a long way to go.

Last fall, the campaign spent $25 million on messaging targeting minority voters, including Latino and Black voters. It featured paid ads in Spanish, Spanish-language accents and Spanglish, which is seen as more effective with younger voters. Ads popped up on soccer streams and other places where Latino men are likely to be found. The campaign announced $30 million more in ads, with a portion aimed at minority voters for the spring. And this month, the campaign announced millions of dollars in advertising targeting Black, Latino and Asian American audiences.

The Biden campaign is attempting to push its message into the chaotic algorithms of social media, pointing to millions of views on pro-Biden posts from creators chosen for their relatability with men Democrats hope to get to the polls.

A lot of this spending is coming much earlier than similar efforts in 2020, which Biden aides say is because the campaign knows it needs to give undecided voters plenty of opportunities to hear the message even if they don’t closely follow politics. “We are running a campaign for the moment we are in — a highly fragmented media environment with many of our voters not yet thinking about November 2024,” campaign spokesperson Kevin Munoz said in a statement. “That requires us to dig deep and meet men where they are on the stakes of this election.”

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In the Raleigh focus group, only a few of the nine Black men gathered — all sporadic voters — were able to name positive accomplishments Biden has made or attempted in office. The focus group organizers, who requested anonymity to protect their clients, told NOTUS that’s fairly typical among the sessions they convene.

Phillip, a 45-year-old man from Charlotte, said he’s heard Biden speak about race relations, raising the minimum wage and affordable housing. Most of the men said they were aware of Biden’s efforts to cancel student loans, but that wasn’t enough to offset their negative feelings about the economy. They used words like “worried,” “disillusioned,” “embarrassed” and “unsettled” to describe their current feelings about the economy during the session.

“Everything’s too volatile. It fluctuates too much. There’s no consistency, no stability,” Chuck, a 47-year-old IT professional from Durham, said during the session. “Everything is just too expensive.”

Some of the men were far more familiar with Republican talking points on the economy: that the rise of inflation was directly connected to America’s funding of wars in foreign countries, that Biden is more interested in helping other countries while Trump is more “America First,” that Trump ran the country like a business and that his tax cuts for corporations indirectly benefited the middle class through a trickle-down effect.

Almost all the men agreed that Biden comes off as too old to confidently support him being in office for another four years.

When shown charts on how Biden has improved the economy, like lowering the Black unemployment rate to historic lows and a strong history of job growth, the group quickly conceded that they hadn’t been giving Biden enough credit — but openly wondered why they hadn’t heard this from the campaign or other messengers in the Black community.

“This is good information, but how many people know this? It goes back to the saying, ‘If a tree falls in the woods, does it make a sound?’” said Kengie, a 45-year-old educational administrator from Raleigh.

“If you’re doing this stuff for our people, why don’t a lot of our people know it?” Chuck wondered in a follow-up interview. Even though he’s voted Democratic his whole life, he’s now considering other non-Trump options. “Biden, put some more fire, put some more pep in your step, you know, let these people know: ‘I’m here for you guys.’”

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The Biden campaign and its allies aren’t giving up on white men either.

The AFL-CIO is weeks away from launching a large-scale effort to convince white men in the upper Midwest to vote against Trump. The effort is focused on union members, a crucial base for Biden, and comes after weeks of message testing, said Steve Smith, director of political organizing at the union.


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The mission is to chisel away support for Trump among blue-collar white guys in more rural parts of America through one-on-one conversations between workers about the election. The strategy is to push aside the national chatter and make the election about one guy and the future of his union.

“We just want to paint a really stark picture of, you know, where are these two candidates on the things you’ve told us you care most about?” Smith said. “We’re going to always bring it back to those kitchen-table economic concerns and who would do better for them.”

Smith said the conversations he is facilitating are “brutally honest.” The white men engaged in the experimental phase of this year’s outreach program often don’t agree with Democrats on social issues, he said. A lot of them watch Fox News. Many do not like what they’re seeing from Biden.

“I’m not going to bullshit you by telling you that we’ve got all the answers,” he said. But he insists there are persuadable men out there, particularly if they hear the direct message that Trump doesn’t have a record of helping unions and Biden does.

“Does he lose white men by 20 points? Or does he lose white men by seven, eight, you know, five points? That could well be the difference in this election,” Smith said. “We’ve got to have a targeted approach; we’ve got to have a message that speaks to their economic concerns.”

And people like Birch are willing to hear that message too. After days of processing the focus group session’s information about Democrats and their recent record, he said he’s ready to get off the fence. He said he’s decided to support Biden again in November.

“I’m not fully aware of every little thing that the Democratic side is doing. But I would like to know,” he told NOTUS. “There was a point where every little step Trump took, we were made aware of it. I’m not saying the Democrats or the Biden administration needs to go to that extent, but I would flex a little more.”


Jasmine Wright and Evan McMorris-Santoro are reporters at NOTUS.