Jan 23, 2021 - Politics & Policy

Focus group: Former Trump voters say he should never hold office again

Illustration of a red Maga-like baseball cap that reads "nope"

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

"Relief" is the top emotion some swing voters who used to support Donald Trump say they felt as they watched President Biden's swearing-in, followed by "hope."

Why it matters: For voters on the bubble between parties, this moment is less about excitement for Biden or liberal politics than exhaustion and disgust with Trump and a craving for national healing. Most said Trump should be prohibited from ever holding office again.

These were the biggest takeaways from our first Engagious/Schlesinger swing-voter focus groups on governance in the Biden era.

  • The two Jan. 21 sessions included 13 women and men who voted for Trump in 2016 but Biden in 2020, from a mix of the most competitive swing states.
  • While focus groups are not statistically significant samples like polls, the responses show how some voters in crucial states are thinking and talking about national priorities, expectations for Biden, and Trump's future.

By the numbers: Ten of the 13 said their vote was more anti-Trump than it was pro-Biden, and nine said Trump should be barred from holding office again.

  • Eight support Trump's impeachment, but only one would would criminally charge him with inciting the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol.
  • None believes the election was stolen from Trump.

Between the lines: Coronavirus was not the reason most turned against Trump.

  • Ten had made up their minds before last March; some had buyer's remorse almost immediately after the 2016 election.
  • Rather than one tipping point, voters mentioned his moral failings, weaponizing social media, acting unpresidential, bullying, firing Cabinet members for sport, antagonizing racial and partisan divisions in society and separating children and parents at the Mexico border.
  • Some felt duped for thinking he was a savvy businessman who could get things done that career politicians hadn't.
  • "I was just so over it," said one voter, Matt S. from Georgia.

"Joe Biden’s main value was to spare them four more years of Donald Trump," said Engagious president Rich Thau, who moderated the focus groups.

What's next: Every member of the focus groups said they want the unity Biden called for in his speech. The most important things he can do, they said, are to get the virus under control, make the vaccine accessible and heal national divisions.

  • Biden said a lot of the "soothing" things "that needed to be said," said Kristi H. from Texas.
  • "It was so good to see everyone in masks," Lawrence G. from Florida said of the optics at the swearing-in. "It's just good to see people, maybe, taking it seriously."

Details: All 13 want the $1,400 stimulus checks Biden is calling on Congress to pass. “I have friends and family who need that money,” said Jennifer C. of Texas.

  • All want Biden to embrace a moderate rather than liberal path.
  • Most favor the U.S. return to the Paris climate deal, but they split over a $15-an-hour federal minimum wage and revoking Trump's so-called Muslim travel ban.
  • Most expressed excitement or optimism around Vice President Kamala Harris.
  • Some worry Biden is too old, could be pulled too far to the left or could hurt the economy by increasing spending too much or raising taxes.

Be smart: These voters aren't writing off the entire Republican Party for enabling Trump. Most said they'll make voting decisions on a case-by-case basis.

  • "Trump does not represent the entire Republican Party," said Matthew S. from North Carolina. "Overall, the Republican Party, it’s made up of people who are trying. They make mistakes just like the Democrats make mistakes."
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