Top Five Dial Testing Takeaways from Wisconsin Swing Voters

Dialsmith is the technology partner and dial testing services provider for the Swing Voter Project—an ongoing, national study being conducted by Engagious and Focus Pointe Global. The project features monthly focus groups set in key battleground districts across the Midwest and Florida. The first group was conducted this past March with new groups to be held every month through the 2020 Election. Full summary reports and video clips from each group can be found on the Swing Voter Project page, but if you want to know what the top dial testing takeaways from the most recent swing voter focus group, you’ve come to the right place.

The latest swing voter focus group was a return trip to the same town where we began our road tour, Appleton, Wisconsin. But unlike the first go-around, this group was made up of nine participants who all shared one key demographic—all the participants are females. Seven of the participants voted for President Obama in 2012 and then President Trump in 2016, while two voted for Mitt Romney in 2012 and then Hillary Clinton in 2016. They were asked a series of scale-based, discreet choice and moment-to-moment questions using our Perception Analyzer dials. The dial results revealed some results in common with our prior groups but there were some surprises as well. That being said, here are our top takeaways from the Wisconsin swing voter dial results:

Takeaway #1: Foreign Policy and Prospect of War are Top-of-Mind

In the beginning of the focus group, we asked respondents to name their top issue of concern heading into 2020. In previous focus groups, issues like the economy, immigration and healthcare were at the top of voters’ minds. But this group surprised us a bit, as more than half cited foreign policy/possibility of war as their top issue.

This was further supported by a dial response we received to a question we asked later in the session:

Imagine you’re standing in the voting booth in November 2020 and about to cast your ballot. You may be thinking about the issues that matter to you. Compared to the state of the economy, how important are national security issues (North Korea, Iran, Russia, etc.) to you when you vote next year?

Takeaway #2: Warren Goes High, While Biden Goes Low

During the focus group, we asked participants to watch several clips from the latest Democratic presidential candidates debate.

The highest-scoring dial test debate snippet occurred when Elizabeth Warren was speaking about Afghanistan, which included her saying, “We cannot ask our military to keep solving problems that cannot be solved militarily.” She also talked about the importance of working with our allies to address terrorism. This scored in the low 90s (on a zero to 100 scale, from “dislike” to “like”). It was the highest-scoring clip throughout the seven months of this project. This makes sense given these swing voters’ concerns about foreign policy and the possibility of war.

Another interesting dial moment came when Joe Biden was discussing his policies on criminal justice reform. Let’s just say it was not a banner moment for the former vice president.

Here’s Swing Voter Project moderator Rich Thau discussing those two key dial testing moments:

Takeaway #3: The Economic Good Times May Be Short-Lived

When questioned about the current state of the economy, these swing voters, on average, believe the economy for them and their family (6.1/10) and for America overall (6.4/10) has gotten modestly better since the President took office (on a zero to 10 scale from the economy has “gotten much worse since Donald Trump became president” to “gotten much better since Donald Trump became president”). But they are somewhat pessimistic, on average, about the direction the economy is heading. When asked to give their opinion on if they think it’s fairly likely that the U.S. economy will enter a recession sometime in the next year on a zero (“no chance it will enter a recession”) to 10 (“it’s already in recession”) scale, the average score was 5.6 out of 10.

Takeaway #4: The Democratic Challengers Still Have an Identity Crisis

Participants used the dials to rate on a zero to 10 scale their level of confidence in being able to identify unlabeled photos of each of the Democratic challengers who made the debate stage this month. Zero means they had no idea who the candidate was and 10 means they were totally confident they knew who the candidate was. The following chart shows the results, on average, in descending order:

Despite the fact it’s been months since these Democrats announced their candidacies for president, and following three primary debates, swing voters still don’t know who most of these candidates are. In fact, we also showed them an unlabeled photo of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez to find out how recognizable she was compared to the Democratic challengers. She scored a 1.8 (much lower than in other recent groups), but still slightly more recognizable than four of the 10 Democrats running for president we asked about. Even among the most recognizable candidates, these swing voters know very little.

Takeaway #5: The President is Vulnerable on Healthcare

Using the dials, swing voters rated their satisfaction with President Trump’s efforts to ensure healthcare is affordable for them and their family on a scale from zero (“not at all satisfied”) to 10 (“very satisfied”). The average score for the group was a 4.3. In follow ups, the group partly blames the president and partly blames Congress because its members shut down his efforts to repeal and replace Obamacare. The entity they believe is most responsible for escalating healthcare costs is pharmaceutical manufacturers (four), followed by insurance companies (three), new medical technologies (one), and too little government regulation of the healthcare market (one). Those not selected at all included The Affordable Care Act (Obamacare), hospitals, and “too much government regulation of the healthcare market.”

If you’d like to download the full report from the Appleton, Wisconsin swing voter group and/or view video highlights, visit the Swing Voter Insights page. You can also view the full series of dial testing results from the democratic debates on this YouTube channel.

If you’d like to chat with our team about how can help you find out what voters are thinking about anything from campaign speeches and ads to public policy messaging, please let us know. And please stay tuned for our top dial testing takeaways from next month’s Swing Voter Insights group as head back into the heart of the Rust Belt for a stop in Youngstown, Ohio.