Mar 14, 2020 - Politics & Policy

Focus group: Minnesota swing voters view coronavirus as a financial issue

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

While coronavirus infections and deaths are rising in the U.S., some swing voters in Edina, Minn., said they're viewing this primarily as a financial threat — but they won't blame President Trump if it triggers a recession.

Why it matters: The responses show the complexity of how certain voters view the coronavirus, and they undermine the conventional wisdom that the president would be punished if a recession begins before the November election.

  • This was the biggest takeaway from our Engagious/FPG focus group held Monday.
  • The group included 10 voters who flipped from Barack Obama in 2012 to Trump in 2016 and one who switched from Mitt Romney in 2012 to Hillary Clinton in 2016.
  • While a focus group is not a statistically significant sample like a poll, these responses show how some voters are thinking and talking about the 2020 election in crucial counties.

What they're saying: These participants said they were not concerned about catching coronavirus, much less dying from it. But they were concerned about their financial investments taking a hit as a result of investor and consumer panic and disease containment practices, and they were uneasy about recent stock market hits.

  • "All of a sudden, now, the bottom is just dropping out. They even stopper trading today it was that bad. So, to me, that's alarming," said Roger L., who also said he cancelled an upcoming cruise because of the virus.
  • On Thursday morning, stocks fell more than 8% after reopening from a 15-minute trading halt for the second time this week. (The market then rebounded on Friday.)

In previous focus groups with Obama/Trump voters, we've heard that they'd be less likely to vote for Trump in November if the economy tanks. That wasn't the case in this conversation, with participants indicating no president could be expected to control something with such sweeping, global reach.

  • "I think he has a limited impact on the economy as a whole, especially in the world economy," said Crystal T. "So I think coronavirus is a temporary thing. It's not going to affect anything long term, and it wouldn't affect my decision of voting for him or not."
  • Michael L. said Trump "would have a better idea of how to get us out of [a recession] than the other candidates."
  • Lisa L. echoed that sentiment, saying she'd trust Trump over the others. "At this point I think I'll put my trust in him that he will get us out of it," and if there was a recession because of coronavirus she would still vote for him in November.
  • Others said they simply didn't draw a correlation or negative association between Trump and coronavirus.

Between the lines: They fear health care costs associated with coronavirus, both for treatment and for potential vaccines.

  • Most said insurance companies should waive any out-of-pocket costs associated with receiving medical treatment for coronavirus. They worried about having to see out-of-network specialists who cost more.
  • They predicted drug companies would overprice vaccines. "They're going to charge you what they want to charge you for the first two years because it's going to be proprietary," said Brent E. "Then after that we're going to generic and then the product cost is going to go down. That's what it's all built into."
  • Others worried about paying more down the line if insurance companies waive treatment fees. "It has to trickle down to everybody," said Lisa L., speculating about how Americans will fare financially if insurances companies have to "eat the cost."

The big picture: We've heard underlying financial concerns when swing voters talk about issues they care about heading into the 2020 presidential election.

  • With health care, it's usually about the cost of prescription drugs.
  • With immigration, it's about an idea that the government will take care of immigrants before they take care of American-born citizens.
  • With education, it's about crippling student loan debt.

The bottom line: These swing voters are so preoccupied with their pocketbooks that it could end up helping Trump's re-election efforts — even as Democrats criticize his response to the coronavirus.

Go deeper