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Focus group: These Ohio swing voters are outraged over impeachment

Illustration of a gavel in the shape of Ohio
Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio — Swing voters in this Rust Belt state are expressing a range of unease about impeaching President Trump, from fears it will hurt the economy to frustrations that House Democrats are more invested in going after Trump than in helping people.

Why it matters: If such sentiments last and play out on a larger scale across pivotal states, it spells trouble for Democrats unless they can reframe what they're trying to accomplish.

Distraction, unease, exhaustion — these were some of the main takeaways from our Engagious/FPG focus group last week.

  • We heard from 8 voters who flipped from Barack Obama in 2012 to Trump in 2016, and 3 who switched from Mitt Romney to Hillary Clinton.
  • The findings are a counterpoint to the latest national surveys — including a Fox News poll — that show more and more Americans, perhaps even a majority, now favor impeaching and removing Trump.
  • 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: 9 of the 11 participants raised their hands to say impeachment is a distraction from the issues they care most about — things like wages and unemployment, border security, bringing troops home, and health care costs and access.

  • Brad P., a 40-year-old Trump voter, summed it up as "a never-ending drama" that "shows to me these people are completely out of touch with everyday Americans’ lives."
  • A couple of people doubted that Trump asked Ukraine to investigate Joe Biden; others didn't think it warrants impeachment if he did. "Is there undeniable proof?" asked one man.
  • When asked how impeachment made them feel, these voters offered things like "concerned," "uneasy," "exhausted," "sad that they’re [Democrats] so focused on it," and "a big distraction from what we could be doing."
  • One person, Lisa A., who was a Clinton voter, didn't think it was a great idea but said, "I believe in the checks and balances" and "I'm not scared of the process."

Why Ohio matters: Trump won the state in 2016 by over 450,000 votes; he lost Mahoning County, where the focus group was held, by less than 4,000 votes.

What they're saying: Participants shared their thoughts about the Democrats. "They need to focus on the real issues," said Judy D., a 60-year-old Trump voter. "[Nancy] Pelosi hates him so bad, I just think she needs to drop it and worry about the country."

  • “They need to be concentrating on the country, not what he’s doing wrong,” Deborah G., a 56-year-old Clinton voter, said.
  • "They hit a big strike on Mueller, so this is trying to get another base hit on the president,” said Eric B., a 34-year-old Trump voter.
  • "It's become more of ... 'Destroy the other party' instead of build the whole country up," said Richelle W., a 40-year-old Trump voter.

Before getting serious about impeachment, House Democrats worried the timing was too close to the 2020 election and could backfire at the polls.

  • One man, Rocco P., a 40-year-old Trump voter, offered this advice to Democrats: "Just drop it. Beat Trump at the ballot box."

Between the lines: Harboring anti-impeachment feelings doesn't necessarily translate to a vote for Trump in 2020. Only four of the participants said they will definitely vote for Trump again; one former Trump voter said he will vote for Andrew Yang; one Clinton voter, Lisa A., said she's leaning toward Elizabeth Warren; and the rest are undecided.