Jun 22, 2020 - Politics & Policy

Focus group: Pennsylvania swing voters look to shake-up for stability

Illustration of a person putting up a poster of Joe Biden over an older poster of President Trump

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Some swing voters in Erie, Pa., tell us they're gravitating to Joe Biden — less as a change agent than as a path back to stability, and to restoring the national respect they feel has been lost under President Trump.

The big picture: This was the first time in 16 of our monthly Engagious/Schlesinger swing-voter focus groups that more participants opposed Trump than supported him.

Why it matters: Most participants in the latest installment of the focus group say they don't think the country is better off than it was four years ago, and they've grown to lament the "chaos" that has come to define the Trump presidency.

  • Participants described feeling "annoyed," "irritated," and "frustrated" to see the president out and about and not wearing a mask amid the coronavirus.
  • They called his approach to the pandemic "arrogant" and "offensive" in the face of deaths, and lamented his Bible photo-op at St. John's Church in D.C. as "phony" catering to the base that "was in poor taste."
  • By contrast, participants described Biden as a "role model" for wearing a mask, calling him "informed," "educated," and "responsible." Several said Biden would bring "respect" back to the presidency and the country.

Between the lines: This group's sentiments reflect a more dramatic turning away from the president than national surveys.

  • An Axios/SurveyMonkey poll last week found that nine in 10 Trump 2016 voters plan to stick with him and most Trump backers disapprove of the protests, the Black Lives Matter movement and calls to redistribute police funding.
  • While a focus group is not a statistically significant sample like a poll, the responses show how some voters are thinking and talking about the 2020 election in crucial counties.

Details: The nine-voter focus group was conducted virtually last Tuesday. Six of its participants voted for Barack Obama in 2012 and flipped to Trump in 2016; three voted for Mitt Romney in 2012 but Hillary Clinton in 2016.

  • Four of the Obama/Trump voters and all three Romney/Clinton voters said they plan to support Biden in November.
  • Most said they haven't heard much from Biden — and couldn't think of anything specific that he's said or done lately — suggesting they see the election less as a measure of affirmative support for Biden than as a referendum on the incumbent.

What they're saying: Some said they're so sick of Trump's handling of national crises, including the pandemic and George Floyd's killing, that they're willing to vote for Biden even if they're not passionate about him.

  • "I would like him to stop fanning the racial tensions that are happening right now," Selena K., who worked for the Democratic Party four years ago when she voted for Trump, said of the president. "I would like to see him make a call for unity and actually follow through on that."
  • "There are so many people who are unhappy right now with the general stance of what our country is looking like," said Lori S., who voted for Trump four years ago but now plans to vote for Biden. "People are just over it. They're over his mouth, they're over his everything about him and his whole bit, that they're ready for any kind of change."
  • Jessica G., who still plans on voting for Trump, lamented: "We need somebody ... who talks about bringing the country together."
  • Barry K. said the primary reason he plans to stick with Trump is "because I think he's going to do more good for the economy."
  • Steve M., who voted for Clinton in 2016 after previously supporting Romney, said he'll vote for Biden this time because he sees more stability in switching horses than continuing this administration for a second term. He said he cared about "any number of issues" four years ago, but now there's just one: "It’s him leaving. That’s the only issue I care about."
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