Jul 17, 2022 - Politics & Policy

Focus groups: Wisconsin swing voters say Trump guilty for Jan. 6

Photo illustration of Donald Trump, the US Capitol and Wisconsin.

Photo illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios. Photos: Brandon Bell, Tayfun Coskun/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

The House select committee's Jan. 6 hearings are cementing the views of some voters who once backed former President Trump and now believe he should face criminal prosecution, according to our latest Axios Engagious/Schlesinger focus groups.

Driving the news: 10 of 14 Wisconsin swing voters last week said Trump should be prosecuted for trying to overturn the 2020 election and his role in the attack on the Capitol; 10 of 13 Arizona swing voters in panels last month said the same.

Why it matters: The findings follow bombshell testimony by former White House aides and lawyers. Committee members have previewed forthcoming revelations about potential witness tampering.

  • The focus groups track with national polling showing more than half of Americans believe Trump should face criminal charges.

How it works: Engagious/Schlesinger conducted two online focus groups on Tuesday with 14 Wisconsinites who voted for Trump in 2016 then Joe Biden in 2020. They included 12 independents, one Democrat and one Republican.

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

Details: Eight participants said they've watched at least part of the Jan. 6 hearings so far. Several said the hearings were helpful for "accountability" but that the committee already has "their proof" of what happened that day.

  • Those who thought Trump should face criminal prosecution didn't relent even when the moderator pushed back and said doing so would be unprecedented, potentially putting future presidents at risk of being prosecuted for political reasons.
  • Voters were adamant that such a move would help deter similar attempts by anyone else in the future to "overthrow the government."

What they're saying: "He's our president and a president should have never done anything to provoke what happened. Many people were injured. Look at how many lives you put at stake because you were allowing this to happen. And he was happy about it," said Samantha O., 39.

  • Andrew R., 59, said: "We have to show other people that this just can't be done in the future. [Prosecution] is going to be the price to pay if you try to do a coup again — and that's exactly what it was, a coup."
  • Others likened what happened that day to the politics of "third-world countries."
  • 36-year-old Jaime M. said what happened on Jan. 6 "was too extreme, and something needs to be done about it to prevent it from ever happening again," otherwise "it just opens a floodgate for what anybody else is allowed to do."
  • Another voter said criminally prosecuting Trump would ensure that “the credibility of the justice system is upheld."
  • “Ironically, most of these Wisconsin swing voters think the president who led chants of ‘lock her up’ should himself be locked up for his actions on Jan. 6,” said Rich Thau, president of Engagious, who moderated the focus groups. 

What to watch: These voters have more than just Jan. 6 on their minds. Many said that federal gun legislation was a top-three priority for them this cycle, but several others told us their vote in November won't be affected by the issue of abortion.

  • They barely knew much about Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), but those who do know him weren't very happy. One voter said he is "a puppet of Trump" and another said "he pretends to care" just to "gain popularity."
  • All but two said they neither want Trump nor President Biden to run for president again in 2024.
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