Feb 17, 2023 - Politics & Policy

Focus groups: Michigan swing voters want Biden gone

Illustration of cracked rose-colored aviator sunglasses

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

Bad news for President Biden: A focus group of Michigan swing voters who backed him in 2020 unanimously want a 2024 primary challenger, even as they struggle to name an alternative.

Why it matters: Biden's age, "mental acuity" and fitness to serve are worrying these voters, Axios learned from our most recent Engagious/Schlesinger focus groups on Tuesday.

  • The online focus groups featured 13 Michiganders who voted for Donald Trump in 2016 and then Biden in 2020.
  • Seven are now registered as Democrats, two as Republicans and four as independents. 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.
  • Eight of the 13 voters say they would abandon Biden in favor of "a generic, not-at-all controversial, middle-aged white male Republican governor who has mainstream conservative views," as our moderator asked them.

The big picture: A recent national poll found just 37% of Democrats want Biden to seek a second term.

  • Biden is 80 and Trump is 76, yet the focus group voters don't hold Trump's age against him and it doesn't influence their view of him.

What they're saying: Biden "looks extremely frail to me, and I swear every time I see him, he looks older," said Valerie C., but "Trump looks exactly the same."

  • "It doesn't look like he's going anywhere for 30 years," Valerie continued. "Biden, I worry that he might be gone next week or something, so that's kind of scary to see."
  • "From the way I’ve seen him think and sort of be out of it when he’s in public, he doesn’t seem fit to be holding such a high position in office," said Jill O.
  • Several others mentioned things they've seen online have influenced their opinion of Biden's fitness for office.

Between the lines: These voters have soured on Trump and viewed Biden as the lesser of two evils last presidential cycle.

  • Adam P. said that he doesn't trust Trump. "So that's why I would switch. Because I voted for Biden, but I would just want to try something new."

Zoom in: The only name that came up as an appealing 2024 primary challenger is Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.), because a participant preferred him over Biden in 2020.

  • Not a single other participant had a Democrat in mind, but would like to see just about anyone challenge the president.
  • "I just think there are others that may be more — I don't want to say more credible — but the longevity of a person matters. I mean, there's never been a president older than him," said Jill O.

The bottom line: “Without hesitation, Michigan swing voters would deny Joe Biden what the last four presidents enjoyed — an unimpeded pathway to re-nomination,” said Rich Thau, president of Engagious, who moderated the focus groups. 

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