Updated Mar 28, 2020 - Politics & Policy

Focus group: Minnesota swing voters balk at Trump's Easter deadline

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

A group of Midwestern swing voters that supported President Trump's handling of the coronavirus less than two weeks ago is balking at his call for the U.S. to be "opened up" by Easter, saying they'll tolerate business closures for as long as it takes to contain the spread.

Why it matters: Their feedback suggests that some voters otherwise mostly supportive of the president — and who still see financial threats outpacing health threats — aren't so tired of social distancing that they're willing to risk ending it too quickly.

  • It also suggests that they'd give him a pass if he eased off of the Easter goal, as some White House advisers are pushing him to do.

State of play: Axios and Engagious/FPG reconnected (virtually) with a focus group from Edina, Minn., which first met on March 9. The idea was to get a sense of how the acceleration of the virus is adjusting swing voters' views of the president.

  • The March 25 focus group included eight of the 11 original participants. The other three were unavailable.
  • The group included seven 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: "Nobody has that magic day or month," said Pamela S. "We all want our normal back. We want to go back out and be consumers, but none of us have been through this before ... Nothing has to be open by Easter."

  • Maxine said going back to normal on Trump's preferred timeline would waste "all the work we've done" in staying home so far.
  • "Everyone is figuring out how to live this new normal, so why stop it sooner than later?" said Lisa L. "Keep going, and let the consequences happen, and we’ll figure out how to recover."
  • "We’ve been doing this for a couple of weeks. We’ll figure out how to do it four more, six more."

Between the lines: As in our last discussion with these swing voters, they're still primarily viewing coronavirus as a financial threat. But they made clear that they value lives over the economy.

  • "America is built on capitalism and entrepreneurship. We're going to rebound," said Eric P.
  • "Yeah, there's going to be businesses that bail. A lot of small businesses are going to hurt, especially restaurants and bars. They're going to hurt and they might have to start anew. But if it saves a million people? Yeah, take that pill. You swallow it and you move on."

Every participant said yes when asked if it would be worth extending closures of businesses and schools for another six to eight weeks to save 1 million Americans.

  • "Every life matters. So if you're going to save one or a thousand or a million, that's okay! That's good. Wait it out," said Pamela S.
  • All but one participant said it's a better strategy to keep schools and businesses closed in order to slow the spread of the virus, while relying on large-scale government programs to help economically.
  • Roger L. talked about how uncertainty is impacting his views. "I just feel like, if I do the right things, my health should be fine. That’s the reason I’m more concerned about finances — it just seems to be a lot more unknown to me right now.”

Be smart: These folks aren't in any rush to get back to normal before it's safe to do so. Most told us they wouldn't even be willing to set foot on an airplane until late summer, with three saying they won't consider it until a full year from now.

But, but, but: The participants still think Trump is mostly handling the crisis OK — including the one in the group who voted for Clinton over Trump.

  • "Nobody really saw this coming to the extent that it was," said Josh M., a Romney/Clinton voter. "That’s something I can’t fault anybody for."
  • "This is a new experience for everyone. It’s easy for everybody to put it on Trump, just like they did with Obama," said Brent E. "Everything was 'Obama’s fault'; everything’s 'Trump’s fault.'"
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