Apr 25, 2020 - Politics & Policy

Focus group: Ohio swing voters want Trump to act more like a governor

Photo illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios. Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images

Some swing voters in Canton, Ohio, who were won over by President Trump's say-anything bravado in 2016, now wish he'd be less partisan and more expert-driven — like a governor.

Driving the news: Concerns over Trump's ego and how he talks about the public health crisis were some of the main takeaways from our Engagious/FPG focus group with 10 voters who flipped from Barack Obama in 2012 to Trump in 2016.

Why it matters: National polls show a majority of Americans feel better about their state executives' handling of the crisis than Trump's. This could matter, especially if it translates to lost support from crossover voters in battleground states.

  • The focus group was conducted Tuesday night in two online panels.
  • 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.

What they're saying: There's little appetite for partisan politics among these voters when it comes to a crisis with life-and-death consequences. They want a leader who will work with health and science experts, find solutions, and activate in a way that won't polarize the country.

And across the board, they gave glowing reviews to the way Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine (R) has handled the crisis.

  • "Gov. DeWine has been a rock. He’s cool, calm, collected. He has a good team. He does make decisions and he’s made absolutely great ones. I have a lot of confidence in him," said Pat M., 64.
  • Tracy G., 51, agreed with that. "He doesn’t hesitate to act. He figures out what needs to be done and he’s on it. I think he’s been a great guy for this crisis. I’ve been amazed by what he’s done and I like that he’s a man of action."
  • "Politics doesn’t seem to play a very big role at all when he’s making decisions and telling us what’s going on and I appreciate that," said 63-year-old Michael H.
  • "I like that he's very visible a lot. He's active on a bunch of different social media forums," said 32-year-old Kristen D.

Asked for the leadership qualities they admire in other governors around the country managing the crisis, these voters offered words including "patience," "sympathetic" and "sincere" — and praised leaders who appear to fight "passionately" to protect their constituents.

By contrast, they described Trump as "lackadaisical" with his words, not always sounding "the most educated," and being "all over the place."

  • "I do think his ego is getting a bit in the way, and I think now we're seeing things in the face of this pandemic that go on behind the scenes that we haven't seen before," said Kristen D. "Maybe he's exposed a little bit."

Trump should behave more like DeWine, several said.

"I would just encourage President Trump to do the same thing that DeWine is doing and get rid of the politics. That just hogs up too much of the spotlight and it just becomes much more divisive. This is a time for our nation to be coming together and look, I think the state of Ohio has done a pretty good job of coming together. Mr. Trump could take some of the cool, calm, collected, grandpa-kind-of-DeWine. This whole attitude and perspective — it's much more unifying than it is divisive."
— Michael H., an Ohio Obama/Trump swing voter.
  • April P., 44, said Trump didn't take the coronavirus seriously at first: "I've heard him say before he didn't know nothing about the shortage of tests for the COVID-19, but yet I've seen it all over the news. So how could you not know and you're running this country?"
  • Others were concerned that Trump cares more about the economy than people. "He feels like lives are expendable as opposed to the state of the union at this point," said Sherry W., 46.

What we're watching: These voters hadn't entirely abandoned Trump — they signaled they wouldn't blame him for an economic recession triggered by the virus.

  • But one participant said she's "lost confidence" in Trump "because we do kinda need someone with a more political and science background" now.

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