Sep 3, 2020 - Politics & Policy

Focus group: Wisconsin swing voters feel overlooked by Biden

 Photo illustration of Joe Biden from behind
Photo illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios. Photo: Scott Olson/Getty Images

OSHKOSH, Wis. — Some voters in Wisconsin say they feel Joe Biden cares less about them and their concerns than about the people protesting systemic racism.

Why it matters: As Trump leans into a law-and-order message to try to align Biden with street violence — and wrongly claims Biden is for defunding police — some Democrats worry a fear campaign could work with some battleground state swing voters.

The big picture: Racial resentment, feelings of being overlooked by the Democratic Party, distrust of political institutions and low-information decision-making emerged as major themes in our latest virtual Engagious/Schlesinger focus group.

  • Eight of the 10 Wisconsin swing voters in the group had supported Trump in 2016 after backing Barack Obama in 2012, while two flipped from Mitt Romney in 2012 to Hillary Clinton in 2016.
  • 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.

Just two of the 10 participants in this week's session said they'll vote for Biden, including one Obama-to-Trump voter who no longer supports the president.

  • Several hadn't watched either party's nominating convention and six of the 10 wrongly believed Biden wants to defund police. The economy was a pervasive concern.
  • For context, the latest RealClearPolitics polling average shows Biden with a 3.5% lead over Trump in the state.

What they're saying: "Anybody who believes there's systemic racism is going to vote for Joe Biden, and he wants you to believe there's systemic racism," said Thomas B., who's sticking with Trump.

  • Jessica B. said she's worried about "all this pointless violence . . . spreading to my home."
  • Dawn M echoed that concern and said: "It’s unfair that African Americans seem to be more targeted [by police], but that’s all you hear about. You don’t hear about what happened before, to proceed to the shooting."
  • Participants reacted negatively when shown a clip of Biden running mate Kamala Harris emphasizing how COVID-19 disproportionately impacts communities of color in her speech at the Democratic National Convention.
  • "The minorities, yes, are going to have less income, less resources, less everything else, so yes it may hit them a little harder," said Steve V. "But they’re spinning it . . . to make their numbers look like it’s only affecting them."

Between the lines: Even those who said they've lost faith in the president's leadership since January don't blame him for things going awry with the pandemic — and if anything are frustrated that he has yielded to the extent that he has.

  • "He’s been trying so hard I feel, but nothing is working," said Kaycee W. "Everybody was fighting him every step of the way, so I feel he just gave up and isn’t trying as hard anymore."
  • Liz S. lamented the fact that Trump has allowed scientists to sway his instincts about how to respond to the virus. "I always felt like he really made his own decisions and stood up for his own decisions and didn’t let anybody sway the way he did things," she said. "After the coronavirus situation hit, he was very back and forth."
  • Steven V. said "all the rioting" and "civil unrest" has made him less confident in Trump's ability to lead, but that he doesn't necessarily think that's Trump's fault.
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