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Focus group women like Warren's policies more than her

Illustration of Elizabeth Warren's shadow casting over the state flag of Wisconsin
Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

APPLETON, Wis. — Elizabeth Warren's left-wing populism is gaining popularity among some swing voters here, but they're not ready to embrace her for 2020.

Why it matters: In a small, all-women focus group, some participants suggested President Trump would win on personality if the contest was between him and Warren — and that their doubts about her aren't based on substance.

  • These were the main takeaways from our Engagious/FPG focus group last week, which included 7 women who flipped from Barack Obama in 2012 to Trump in 2016, and 2 who switched from Mitt Romney to Hillary Clinton.
  • While a focus group is not a statistically significant sample like a poll, these responses show how some voters are thinking and talking about the 2020 election in crucial counties.

The big picture: Most of the group preferred a left-leaning set of policies to a right-leaning set when no names were attached. But when listening to Warren talk about them in clips from the last debate, they were skeptical of her — and not because of the policies.

  • And the blunt language made it clear that Warren faces the kind of obstacles confronted by many strong leaders who are women.

What they're saying: "I like what she had to say, but I still think she's — sorry — a bitch," said Jill T., a 56-year-old Trump voter, who later indicated that she preferred the left-leaning policies to right-leaning policies.

  • Another woman said Warren may have to be a "bitch" in order "to win and to survive."
  • "Everything she said was great, but to me it's like, right, that's not going to happen," said Sandy D., a 62-year-old Clinton voter.
  • "I think she brought across good points, but it's whether or not she'll be able to follow through on what she's saying," said Alicia K., 44.
  • She likes Warren "because she seems strong-willed." But if Trump started talking about helping people pay for student debt and taxing corporations, she said be on the Trump train next year.
  • The last time we visited Appleton, a different group of swing voters revealed they were souring on Trump's personality.

Between the lines: These voters' comments about Warren's ability to serve as president reflected the doubts that some people have about women in leadership — even when they're framed as concerns about what other people will think.

  • "Warren won’t be looked upon as a leader because she’ll be presiding over a House and Senate full of men," said Nicole W., a 33-year-old Trump voter. "I’m worried she won’t be taken seriously."
  • Others brought up foreign leaders, like North Korea's Kim Jong-un, who might view Warren as weak and therefore think "we can do whatever we want and they can’t stop us," as one woman put it.
  • And one of these female voters said Warren might fail as president because she'd be "too emotional," and others worried she'd be viewed as a "pushover."

Details: We presented the group with two sets of policies, without any candidates' names attached, asking them to imagine these were their options to pick from next year.

  • The left: Imposing an annual 2% tax on every dollar of net worth above $50 million, and 3% on every dollar of net worth above $1 billion; taxing at 7% corporations with profits above $100 million; canceling $50,000 in student loan debt for every person with a household income under $100,000; and passing a Medicare for All plan and make large corporations and wealthy people pay for it.
  • The right: Building a border wall, banning citizens from certain countries from traveling to the U.S., imposing tariffs on goods coming from China and Mexico to force more favorable trade deals with the U.S., and weakening the Affordable Care Act to ultimately dismantle it.
  • 7 of the 9 participants favored the left-leaning policies.
  • Of the 2 who preferred the right-leaning policies, one was a Clinton voter.

Why Wisconsin matters: Trump barely won the state in 2016, earning roughly 22,000 votes more than Clinton.

Go deeper: Wisconsin swing voters tire of Trump

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