Jan 13, 2020

Focus group: Pennsylvania swing voters unhappy with McConnell's impeachment comments

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios. Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Staff

WILKES-BARRE, Pa. — Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's public comment that he will not be an "impartial juror" in President Trump's Senate trial has alienated some swing voters here — even though they support Trump and are fed up with impeachment.

Why it matters: These voters told us they think all 100 senators on both sides of the aisle have a responsibility to be impartial under the Constitution. (Their oath requires them to promise "impartial justice according to the Constitution and laws.")

They also said McConnell's comments perpetuate the impeachment conversation when they ultimately just wish it would go away.

  • That was a main takeaway from our Engagious/FPG focus group last week, which included 11 people who flipped from Barack Obama in 2012 to Trump in 2016.
  • 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.

Where it stands: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said she expects to send the articles of impeachment to the Senate at some point this week, which will put McConnell’s handling of this in the spotlight.

The big picture: Their reactions to McConnell's remarks — in response to a question from the focus group moderator — revealed that the process is important to these voters, even if they don't think Trump should be impeached and removed from office.

  • A December poll from ABC News and the Washington Post found that 61% of Americans expect the president will get a fair trial in the Senate and 71% think Trump should allow senior administration officials to testify.
  • While these voters want every senator to act as an impartial judge, they are skeptical that will be the reality.

What they're saying: "That was a terrible statement to make publicly," said Don E. of McConnell's comments. "He's proven that he's biased. He's working with the White House, per se. He has to be impartial; that's what the constitution says in this situation, that he has to be impartial."

  • "Had he kept it to himself and gone and done whatever he was going to do, it would have been much better than blatantly stirring the pot in public and saying, 'I'm going to play games with the White House.'"
  • Not a single participant disagreed with his view on McConnell.
  • Another participant, Mary M., said it seemed like McConnell was intentionally provoking Democrats by saying that. "It's looking for trouble," she said.
  • A different participant followed up and said it gives Democrats "talking points" and "keeps the conversation going."

The economy is a top concern for these voters, and the cost of the impeachment inquiry was on their minds during our two-hour discussion.

  • "I think there's better ways that our money can be spent then, because he only has a little bit left in office, so why spend all this money when he could just be beaten by a different candidate when we [vote]?" Michele R. asked.

Between the lines: Similar to our previous focus groups in Ohio and Michigan, this group of Obama/Trump voters thinks impeaching Trump will harm the U.S. economy.

  • They think Democrats didn’t get what they wanted from Robert Mueller's investigation, so they’ve found another “excuse” to try to go after Trump again.
  • They overwhelmingly agreed that Democrats should drop the impeachment efforts and instead focus on issues that would improve the quality of their lives.
  • House Democrats’ argument that they've passed hundreds of bills in the House that have stalled in the Senate isn’t compelling to these swing voters, because they said all they hear about from the Democrats is impeachment.
  • One participant even pointed out that the USMCA vote was delayed because of impeachment, and others said they feel the media hasn’t been sufficiently covering the fact that bills are getting passed in the House and going nowhere in the Senate.

One more thing: We asked these folks if a hypothetical President Hillary Clinton should be impeached and removed from office if she did exactly what President Trump has been accused of doing with respect to Ukraine. They said no.

Go deeper: Suburban swing voters remain skeptical about impeachment

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