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New Report From America’s Voice: G.O.P. Ad Wars in 2020: Divisive, Anti-immigrant and Racist

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Dog-whistle ads may work in the cul-de-sac of the hardcore Trump base, but they backfire with the multiracial majority that defeated him

A new report from America’s Voice, G.O.P. Ad Wars in 2020: Divisive, Anti-immigrant, and Racist, analyzes thousands of 2020 campaign ads aired by Republicans and Republican-allied groups that attack immigrants, stoke xenophobia and inflame racism.

  • As detailed in our 2020 Ad Watch database and explored in this new report, America’s Voice tracked over one thousand ads from Republican candidates, political committees, and SuperPACs in the 2020 cycle alone – very often funded by America’s biggest corporations and brands — that relied on the strategic use of racism.
  • In 2018, Republicans allies relied on overt anti-immigrant attacks in their advertising. In 2020, while anti-immigrant attacks clearly still formed a strong undercurrent of the GOP strategy, dog-whistles on crime and police dominated. Fears of white victimhood, non-white criminality, and dystopian landscapes were the clear closing message for the GOP up and down the ticket.
  • There is currently a reckoning underway by many corporate donors over their support for Trump and Republicans who helped incite the insurrection on Capitol Hill. But Corporate America must be equally clear-eyed about its role and complicity in the funding of these racist and xenophobic ads that were paid, in part, by donations to the candidates, political committees and SuperPACs. 

Thankfully, the multiracial majority of American voters rejected this approach in 2020, just as they did in the 2018 midterms and in off-year elections throughout the Trump era. But among the Trump base — and insurrectionist mob — white supremacy, nativism and racism are its beating heart. The fact that millions of dollars have been raised and spent to spread these messages and stoke these fears must be acknowledged.

According to Zachary Mueller, Digital Communications Manager at America’s Voice and the lead report author, “Over the last five years, Donald Trump blew racist dog-whistles in his speeches and in his campaign ads, while most of his GOP loudly joined the chorus. Our ad tracking found racist, anti-immigrant advertising was present in Republican ads up and down the ballot. But these divisive messages largely backfired. After a half-century of their potent use, a declining efficacy of the Republicans’ dog-whistle strategy is a profound and positive development. Immigrant-bashing as a wedge strategy is losing its edge. Meanwhile, those who funded these ads should take a serious look at what they’ve been paying to broadcast.”

According to Frank Sharry, Executive Director of America’s Voice: “From his first day of campaigning in 2015 to the last day of campaigning in the Georgia run-offs, Trump’s GOP has weaponized xenophobia, white grievance and white supremacy in service of power and plutocracy. The good news is that this ugly dog-whistle strategy is losing steam. A multiracial, multiethnic and multigenerational majority of Americans reject this Republican wedge strategy. In fact, during the Trump era, Americans have become more pro-immigrant and pro-immigration. We have no illusions that Republicans will abandon racism, division, incitement and xenophobia, even when Trump is no longer in office. But the tectonic plates are shifting, the fear mongering works with a smaller slice of the electorate, and if the modern GOP won’t change, those brand name corporations who fund their campaigns should.”