May 13, 2019 - Politics & Policy

Focus group: Trump supporters like liberal proposals but still love Trump

Illustration of an envelope with a return to sender stamp across the front

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Some of President Trump's supporters in Sioux City, Iowa love liberal populist proposals. They just don't love the 2020 Democrats as the messengers.

Between the lines: A focus group of swing voters — all of whom voted for Trump in 2016 — strongly supported a student loan debt plan that would cancel up to $50,000 in student debt for people whose families make less than $100,000 per year. (That's Elizabeth Warren's proposal, though her name wasn't mentioned in the question.)

  • They also want to tax American corporations, specifically big banks, to pay for Trump's infrastructure plans.
  • This was the main takeaway from the Engagious/FPG focus group of swing voters I watched last week, which included 11 voters who supported Barack Obama and then Trump. All but one said they would re-elect Trump if it were him versus Hillary Clinton again.

Why it matters: These voters aren't familiar with the two main liberal proposals (Medicare for All and the Green New Deal), and they aren't excited by any Democrats running for president. This could give Trump an opportunity to tailor his economic message in Iowa for voters who want more focus on student loan debt and infrastructure.

  • But it also suggests that Warren's own policies are more popular with these voters than she is, given that the voters were skeptical of the entire Democratic field.

What they're saying: One woman, 49-year-old Christine R., suggested big banks — in part because of the money they make from things like overdraft fees — should "fix the roads and put your name on it then. You name the road 'Wells Fargo Boulevard.'" Every other respondent in the group agreed with her idea.

  • Taxing big banks was the most popular idea to pay for infrastructure, beating out an increase in the federal gas tax or borrowing money from other countries.
  • Eight of the 11 respondents said that managing student loan debt is a problem for them or someone they know.
  • "It's not right what's going on with the overwhelming student loan debt in our country," said 36-year-old Elliot H. "[Universities] are making billions and billions of dollars in keeping people in poverty upon graduating, and that just doesn't seem right."
  • They're not excited about any of the 2020 Democrats running for president, and they only really recognized Warren, Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders. "The presidency is a man's job," said 44-year-old Jamison P.
  • The economy was the issue that came up the most among this group when discussing their top concern heading into the 2020 presidential election. And although half of the respondents thought the national economy is booming, no one said they've seen an increase in their own wages or financial situation.

The bottom line: It's still early, but right now Warren — or any other Democrat — would face an enormous challenge winning these voters back even though there's a market for her style of populism.

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