Nov 11, 2021 - Politics & Policy

Focus group: Swing voters want more from Biden

President Biden is seen speaking before sets of cranes at the Port of Baltimore.
President Biden spoke Wednesday about infrastructure at the Port of Baltimore. Photo: Brendan SmialowskiAFP via Getty Images

Some swing voters say the Democrats' recent victory in passing the $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill isn’t enough to restore their faith in President Biden.

Driving the news: Only four of the 10 voters in this week’s Axios Engagious/Schlesinger focus groups even knew the long-awaited legislation — hailed by backers as a major job-creator — passed Congress last Friday.

What we’re watching: The words these swing voters used to describe the president were considerably more negative than in previous focus groups.

  • Among the sentiments voters said they feel when they see him on television were anger, sadness and concern.
  • Participants also cited a lack of charge from the president, saying they're worried he doesn't have a handle on his party.

Why it matters: The president’s party is hopeful that accomplishing more of his legislative agenda can boost his sagging popularity and voter confidence.

  • That, they hope, also will save them in next year’s midterm elections.

How it works: Tuesday night’s focus groups included 10 people who voted for Donald Trump in 2016, then Joe Biden in 2020, and who live in the most competitive 2020 swing states.

  • While a focus group is not a statistically significant sample like a poll, the responses show how some voters in crucial states are thinking and talking about current events.

The big picture: Only two swing voters categorized the infrastructure bill’s passage as a “big achievement.”

  • While four of the voters said they regretted voting for Biden, not one said they would back former President Trump again if he were matched against Biden in 2024.

What they’re saying: “I think it’s great that it passed,” Kate M., 42, of Yardley, Pennsylvania, said of the bipartisan infrastructure bill. “It’s been years in the making. But it doesn’t sway me one way or the other.”

  • "It’s obvious he’s not running the show," she said of Biden, and encouraged the president to "start making decisions himself."
  • Shelley K., a 61-year old voter from Marietta, Georgia, said of the bill: “It should’ve been signed back in August. He just wasn’t standing up and being presidential, and letting all the people in his party call the shots. I have no confidence at all in him, even though this passed.”
  • "I feel like it was other Democrats that were helping to push that through and it was just his name put on it," said Brenda S., 51, from Eden Prairie, Minnesota.

Engagious president Rich Thau, who moderated the focus groups, summed it up like this: “Half of our Trump-to-Biden voters didn’t even know an infrastructure bill had passed, and among those who did, most were underwhelmed.”

But, but, but: Although every voter expressed deep concern about inflation, all but two said that they don’t blame the president for the increased price of goods and housing.

  • “I really don’t fault him," said Josh G., 40, from Mesquite, Texas. "I do think those issues were there because of COVID."
  • “I don't understand how the cost of our toilet paper is affected by what's going on with spending [in Washington],” said Laurel D., a 36 year-old voter from Dunedin, Florida.

Flashback: Swing voters provided early warning signs in August that they were starting to sour on the president.

  • They expressed that concern even though the Senate had passed the infrastructure bill with a bipartisan vote at that time.

Go deeper: Democrats know they have a PR problem.

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