Focus groups find early breakthrough moment in off-years

America has been roiled by the election of Donald Trump and total Republican control of the federal government. Will it be roiled again by a wave election in the coming off-year elections? That would require engaged and consolidated anti-Trump voters, demoralized Trump supporters and independent voters reacting against Trump and Republican overreach. On behalf of Women’s Voices Women Vote Action Fund (WVWVAF), Democracy Corps went to the battleground states of Virginia and Ohio to speak to African American, white millennial and younger unmarried women and white older unmarried and working class women – the working women who will play a critical role in determining whether Democrats make a comeback in the coming off-year elections.[1] Each of these groups disappointed Democrats to varying degrees in terms of vote and/or turnout in past off-years and in 2016, but our findings in these focus groups give us confidence that a dramatically better performance, even a wave, is possible.

  • The Trump voters among these women are not yet regretting their vote, but the defeat of the Trump-Ryan health care replacement was demoralizing and opened their eyes. For the first time, Trump voters do not push back when presented with critical new information. They accept the CBO findings about the Trump-Ryan health care bill and are disturbed it would not lower costs as promised and would hurt seniors and the disabled. They accept an attack on Trump’s budget because it mentions of one of his signature priorities – the wall. They strongly oppose the wall, especially when paid for by cutting Meals on Wheels and after-school programs that make a difference in their communities. 
  • Exposure to information about the Trump-Ryan health care replacement and Trump’s radical budget priorities lead the women in these groups – the Trump voters included – to express a potentially disruptive new doubt about Trump: that he is too rich and far removed from ordinary struggles to see the harm his policies would do. This is the context in which Trump’s wealth and temperament matter to his voters.
  • The women who oppose Trump in these groups are already leaning into the upcoming off-year elections and are energized by the resistance to the Trump presidency. Many of these focus group participants – especially the more Democratic-leaning African American and millennial women–would typically drop off in a midterm election. Their early engagement and intense opposition to Trump suggest a greater level of participation is possible in the upcoming off-year elections.  

So, only two months into this new administration, we are confident that Democrats can communicate messages that engage anti-Trump voters and that begin to erode the confidence of Trump voters in both Trump and Republicans. Democrats should not let up on their attacks on the Trump-Ryan health care alternative – specifically how it would make health care even more unaffordable and actually raises costs for seniors and the disabled. They should let everyone know of his main budget priorities: his wall paid for by cutting funding for Meals on Wheels and after-school programs and cancer research. 

Read the key findings.

Read the full report.

[1] On behalf of WVWVAF, Democracy Corps conducted six focus groups among working women March 23, 27-28 in Ohio and Virginia: white unmarried women over 45 and white non-college women in Akron, OH; white unmarried women under 45 and white millennial women in Cleveland, OH; African American women and white non-college women in Richmond, VA. Each group had a representative mix of Clinton (anti-Trump) and Trump voters.

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