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Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

"Relief" is the top emotion some swing voters who used to support Donald Trump say they felt as they watched President Biden's swearing-in, followed by "hope."

Why it matters: For voters on the bubble between parties, this moment is less about excitement for Biden or liberal politics than exhaustion and disgust with Trump and a craving for national healing. Most said Trump should be prohibited from ever holding office again.

These were the biggest takeaways from our first Engagious/Schlesinger swing-voter focus groups on governance in the Biden era.

  • The two Jan. 21 sessions included 13 women and men who voted for Trump in 2016 but Biden in 2020, from a mix of the most competitive swing states.
  • While focus groups are not statistically significant samples like polls, the responses show how some voters in crucial states are thinking and talking about national priorities, expectations for Biden, and Trump's future.

By the numbers: Ten of the 13 said their vote was more anti-Trump than it was pro-Biden, and nine said Trump should be barred from holding office again.

  • Eight support Trump's impeachment, but only one would would criminally charge him with inciting the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol.
  • None believes the election was stolen from Trump.

Between the lines: Coronavirus was not the reason most turned against Trump.

  • Ten had made up their minds before last March; some had buyer's remorse almost immediately after the 2016 election.
  • Rather than one tipping point, voters mentioned his moral failings, weaponizing social media, acting unpresidential, bullying, firing Cabinet members for sport, antagonizing racial and partisan divisions in society and separating children and parents at the Mexico border.
  • Some felt duped for thinking he was a savvy businessman who could get things done that career politicians hadn't.
  • "I was just so over it," said one voter, Matt S. from Georgia.

"Joe Biden’s main value was to spare them four more years of Donald Trump," said Engagious president Rich Thau, who moderated the focus groups.

What's next: Every member of the focus groups said they want the unity Biden called for in his speech. The most important things he can do, they said, are to get the virus under control, make the vaccine accessible and heal national divisions.

  • Biden said a lot of the "soothing" things "that needed to be said," said Kristi H. from Texas.
  • "It was so good to see everyone in masks," Lawrence G. from Florida said of the optics at the swearing-in. "It's just good to see people, maybe, taking it seriously."

Details: All 13 want the $1,400 stimulus checks Biden is calling on Congress to pass. “I have friends and family who need that money,” said Jennifer C. of Texas.

  • All want Biden to embrace a moderate rather than liberal path.
  • Most favor the U.S. return to the Paris climate deal, but they split over a $15-an-hour federal minimum wage and revoking Trump's so-called Muslim travel ban.
  • Most expressed excitement or optimism around Vice President Kamala Harris.
  • Some worry Biden is too old, could be pulled too far to the left or could hurt the economy by increasing spending too much or raising taxes.

Be smart: These voters aren't writing off the entire Republican Party for enabling Trump. Most said they'll make voting decisions on a case-by-case basis.

  • "Trump does not represent the entire Republican Party," said Matthew S. from North Carolina. "Overall, the Republican Party, it’s made up of people who are trying. They make mistakes just like the Democrats make mistakes."

Go deeper

Jan 27, 2021 - Politics & Policy
Scoop

White House plots "full-court press" for $1.9 trillion relief plan

National Economic Council director Brian Deese speaks during a White House news briefing. Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

The Biden White House is deploying top officials to get a wide ideological spectrum of lawmakers, governors and mayors on board with the president’s $1.9 trillion COVID relief proposal, according to people familiar with the matter.

Why it matters: The broad, choreographed effort shows just how crucially Biden views the stimulus to the nation's recovery and his own political success.

Ronna McDaniel says RNC would stay "neutral" in primaries if Trump ran in 2024

Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Republican National Committee chairwoman Ronna McDaniel told the AP on Wednesday that if former President Trump runs again in 2024, the GOP will remain "neutral" during the primary season.

Why it matters: McDaniel has been staunchly supportive of the former president, who endorsed her to keep running the RNC. She now must focus on regaining majorities in Congress, especially as the Republican party reckons with what the GOP looks like after Trump, even as he remains hugely popular with his base.

Virginia AG launches civil rights probe into pepper-spraying of Army officer

State Attorney General Mark Herring talks to the media outside of court in Richmond, Virginia, in 2020. Photo: Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images

Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring (D) announced Monday he's launched a civil rights investigation into the Windsor Police Department and its officers involved in the traffic stop of U.S. Army Lt. Caron Nazario.

Details: Herring told CNN footage that emerged last Friday showing the two officers pepper-spraying and drawing guns on Nazario, who is Black and Latino, in December was "appalling," "dangerous" and "unacceptable."