Engagious | Axios Swing-Voter Focus Groups: The Inside Scoop

(Originally posted on the Engagious Blog.)

Voting, corruption, witch hunts, “fake news”—and lots more.

In conjunction with media company Axios, Engagious conducted dial tests in Canton, Ohio, with 12 swing voters: six Romney-Clinton voters, and six Obama-Trump voters, all extremely likely to vote in November’s midterm elections. We wanted to get a feel for what they’re thinking about hot topics, and why. Rich Thau, Engagious president, moderated.

To receive a copy of our research write up, go here.

Axios strives to deliver news that’s worthy of attention: important, trustworthy, and efficient. (Check out their website and see how uncluttered and smart it is.)

A preview of the Axios wrap up is below:

The focus-group respondents, five women and seven men, age range 20s to 70s, used hand-held dials to answer a variety of multiple-choice and zero-to-10 scale questions; those scores were used as a touchstone for discussion.

What were they thinking? We found out. Voting, corruption, trade, football—all the things

So many things, we can’t fit them all on one post. In this first post we’ll focus on midterms, President Trump, and more. (Later we’ll hit the economy, climate change, and NAFTA.)

  1. Chasm on America’s direction

When asked in which direction America is moving on a scale from zero (“totally wrong direction”) to 10 (“totally right direction”), the average score for “Romney-Clinton” voters was 2.3, compared to 6.3 for “Obama-Trump” voters. By comparison, there was only a modest difference in the perceived direction Ohio is moving: 4.5 for “Romney-Clinton” voters vs. 5.3 for “Obama-Trump” voters.

The evidence cited for America’s right direction: job growth; the economy picking up (from cutting taxes and regulations); reworking trade agreements; and borrowing money from China “has ceased.”

Evidence given for America’s wrong direction: the Trump Administration is unpredictable and thus “frightening,” running the country like a “banana republic”; the tax cuts don’t benefit individuals; Trump is spending on things he shouldn’t be, like bailing out a Chinese company.

  1. These swing voters are not sending Trump a message with upcoming U.S. Senate elections

Only two of 12 respondents (both of them “Romney-Clinton” voters) said they plan to convey their feelings about President Trump with their vote in November. They felt a vote for Sherrod Brown sends a message about their displeasure toward Trump (thought both said they would vote for Brown whether Trump was President or not).

  1. Democratic control of Congress in ‘19: “Romney-Clinton” voters want it and “Obama-Trump” voters neutral

When asked, “On a scale from zero to 10, how would you feel if in 2019 Democrats were in charge of at least one branch of Congress? Zero is much less pleased; 10 is much more pleased,” “Romney-Clinton” voters scored at 7.8; “Obama-Trump” voters scored at 4.7.

  1. More women in office is a good thing, but not terribly important

Eight of 12 respondents perceived that more women were running for office this year than in previous years. On a scale from zero to 10, with zero being having more women run for office is a very bad thing for our country and 10 being a very good thing for our country, the average score was 7.3 (men at 6.9; women at 7.8). Yet when told that “in 2017, 105 women held seats in Congress, which is roughly 1/5 of all 535 seats” and then asked, “How important is it to you that America get to the point where half of all seats are held by women?” they scored on average 4.4 (4.1 for men; 4.8 for women). It was even less of an imperative to have a female president in respondents’ lifetimes (4.2 for women, 3.4 for men).

One “Romney-Clinton” female explained: “I am very much for women’s rights. . . . However, when it comes to the political arena, I don’t care whether you’re male, female, or chimpanzee. I care about your competency and what you’re going to do.”

  1. Two of 12 swing voters would change their 2016 vote

If another election were held today, of our evenly-split sample of 12, one “Romney-Clinton” voter would vote for Trump, and one “Obama-Trump” voter would shift to Clinton.

The respondent who would vote for Trump this time, instead of Clinton, told us there’s “a lot more corruption” with Clinton, and he does not see as much with Trump. He believed more of her corruption has been exposed by the media since the 2016 election.

The respondent who would switch from Trump to Clinton voted for “the lesser of two evils” in 2016. He believed Trump takes credit for his successes and blames everyone else when something doesn’t go his way—and he’s sick of it. He thought Trump can’t take the blame for anything he has done.

  1. Trump viewed as having failed to drain the swamp in DC

On a scale from zero to 10, with zero being “totally failed” and 10 being “totally succeeded,” “Romney-Clinton” voters gave Trump a 1.7 on his success in “draining the swamp” in DC; “Obama-Trump” voters gave Trump a 4.3. The latter group said they hoped he would do it, but originally had low expectations he’d be successful; Trump has met those low expectations.

  1. They are paying attention to news about the Mueller investigation, and disagree when Trump calls it a “witch hunt”

On a scale from zero to 10, with zero being “not paying any attention” to the investigation, and 10 being “paying close attention,” “Romney-Clinton” voters scored 7.3; “Obama-Trump” voters scored 5.7. As for the witch hunt, “Romney-Clinton” voters strongly disagreed, scoring it at 1.5; “Obama-Trump” voters averaged at neutral, scoring it at 5.2.

“I look at the evidence that is surfacing and it’s never-ending. I fully expect that the Republican Congress will ignore the facts that Mueller reveals in his report. Based on the convictions, based on the indictments—to say that this is a ‘witch hunt’ is nonsensical.” – “Romney-Clinton” Male

One “Obama-Trump” respondent strongly agreed that it is a “witch hunt.” He argued people were paid to find “dirt” on Trump, and the people associated with Trump have not been tried on anything related to the Russia investigation, only on personal matters.

  1. Trump Administration viewed as more corrupt than Obama Administration

When asked, “On a scale from zero to 10, in comparing the last two administrations, would you say: Zero is ‘The Obama Administration was much more corrupt than the Trump Administration’ and 10 is ‘The Trump Administration is much more corrupt than the Obama Administration’?” “Romney-Clinton” voters scored this at 7.8; “Obama-Trump” voters scored it at 5.5.

  1. “Romney-Clinton” voters were much more likely to vote for 2018 candidates advocating Trump’s impeachment; “Obama-Trump” voters were much less likely

On a zero-to-10 scale, “Romney-Clinton” voters scored this at 8.0 (much more likely to vote for a candidate advocating impeachment); “Obama-Trump” voters scored this at 2.7 (much less likely).

Respondents who would be much more likely to vote for someone who advocates for impeachment suggested Republicans impeached President Clinton for less. One “Romney-Clinton” female remarked, “I don’t care for Trump and I want him out of there.”

We asked why they would want to vote for someone supporting impeachment knowing it is very unlikely Trump would be removed from office, given the likely composition of the Senate in 2019. The group was split—6 to 6—as to whether it is okay under some circumstances to use the impeachment process to highlight what a President has done wrong, knowing very likely actual removal is remote.

One “Romney-Clinton” voter said proceeding in this fashion would be a “moral correction” for this country. Those objecting to the idea cited the cost of going through the process and the harm it could do to the President in his role as Commander in Chief. They believed the charges are likely political—pursued by his opponents to harm him, rather than having valid proof the President has done something wrong.

Ten of 12 respondents—including all the “Romney-Clinton voters”—said they believed Democrats would file articles of impeachment if they were to win the House in 2019. They also said Democrats have it already set in their mind that they will do that if they gain control.

Wait, there’s more

Women, fake news, and football: our Axios findings to be continued in the next post.

To get the write up of results, go here.

To see how Axios interpreted the research, take a look at their article here.