Priorities USA invited CNN to observe focus groups of of Arizona voters
Phoenix voters aren't sweating the economy as much as they are in Rust Belt states
The voters who carried Donald Trump to victory in Arizona increasingly see the President as just another politician – and one who is running out of time to deliver on his campaign promises.
Republicans in focus groups held here last week by the Democratic super PAC Priorities USA largely said they are giving Trump between six months and a year before they run out of patience. Some said they have already decided against voting for him again.
“I loved him because he was different, and I thought that he really was going to do a lot of change – good changes,” one Republican woman said. “I hated Obama, so I was ready for a change.”
Now, she said, she has much less confidence in Trump’s ability to change Washington.
“Whether it’s the tweets or just some of the things – like the thing he just said about the cops,” she said, in a reference to Trump urging police officers not to be “too nice” when putting suspected criminals into “the back of a paddy wagon” during a recent speech.
“Somebody needs to just rein him in,” she said. “Before I felt like he could do it all, and now – if somebody could just control him a little bit.”
Here in the desert – where the housing crisis took a deep and lasting toll on homes’ values – voters aren’t sweating the economy as much as they are in Rust Belt states. Most point to an influx of new and expanding businesses and say they are relatively optimistic about their own upward mobility. Even those who opposed Trump in 2016 see the stock market climbing.
But his failure to deliver on his campaign promises – better health care at a cheaper price, in particular – have rankled his supporters.
And Democratic criticisms of Trump’s plans for tax reform, as well as his proposed budget cuts, also carry the potential to put Republicans in danger headed into 2018’s midterm elections.
Those were the clear lessons that emerged from focus groups of nearly 30 voters. The voters who participated were paid, but were not told which organization had convened the groups. At the end of one, several incorrectly suspected they had been brought together in order to provide insights that would help right Trump’s political ship.
Priorities USA invited CNN to observe the focus groups on the condition that the participants be described by their voting history and affiliation and the groups into which they fit rather than using their names. Each of the three focus group discussions – one of Republicans, one of millennials and one of Hispanic voters – lasted two hours.
The Phoenix focus groups, as well as earlier groups in Orlando, Florida, and Cleveland, Ohio, reflected a drop in support for Trump among independents and moderate Republicans.
The Republican group in Phoenix reflected a sense that Trump’s allegiances aren’t with the middle class. Nine in 10 said he sides with corporations over regular people. Everyone in this focus group said congressional Republicans side with corporations, as well, while eight of the 10 said Democrats side with corporations.
Trump’s pledges to overhaul US trade deals and stem the tide of outsourcing haven’t come to fruition, the Republican voters said – pointing to Indianapolis air conditioning manufacturer Carrier laying off hundreds of employees, as planned, despite Trump having declared victory in getting the company to keep some jobs in the United States rather than moving them to Mexico.
“There shouldn’t be any outsourcing. I thought we were going to turn the faucet off,” one Republican man said.
Some of those Republicans, who condemned Obamacare, also criticized the GOP plan to repeal and replace it. And they didn’t fault home-state Sen. John McCain for casting a deciding vote against that GOP effort. Some cited Trump’s attacks on McCain’s war hero status in 2015.
“I think it also goes back to the bickering in politics, because Trump had some pretty harsh things to say about McCain,” one Trump voter said. “So, you know, touché.”
“America should not be voting at 2 in the morning. That’s last call,” another Republican man said.
Most voters across all groups said they were concerned by some of the messages presented to describe the benefits and drawbacks of Trump’s tax reform effort. The most potent: That corporations would pay lower tax rates than individuals.
The view of Trump is especially important in Arizona – a state where 2016 Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton made a late play, but Trump won easily.
In 2018, Sen. Jeff Flake – a Republican who recently wrote a book condemning Trump’s effect on the GOP – is up for re-election and could face a primary challenge from a Trump ally. That has positioned the state as a testing ground of Trump’s support within the party and among independents, who can vote in the GOP primary.
Democrats also face hurdles
The focus groups also showed clearer signs of danger for Democrats.
The party’s leadership is rolling out its “A Better Deal” economic populist platform headed into the midterms. But voters in the focus groups – one of Hispanics, one of millennials and one of Republicans who had voted for Mitt Romney in 2012, McCain for re-election in 2016 and, in all but one case, Trump – drew few clear distinctions between congressional Republicans and Democrats.
“It’s just a game at this point. Republicans and Democrats – ‘I’m better,’ ‘you’re better,’” one millennial man said.
“I think that they’re out for themselves. They’re politicians. They are playing a game with all of our livelihoods,” another millennial man said.
“Everybody’s selfish,” said a millennial woman.
Jefrey Pollock, the Democratic pollster who led two of the three groups, said Democrats “cannot take for granted the midterms.”
“There was a lot of mush” in voters’ perceptions of the two parties, Pollock said. “There’s plenty of, sort of, ‘It’s all crap.’”
He said between the focus groups, the chaos of the last two weeks – with Trump’s White House going through the entire Anthony Scaramucci era and with chief of staff Reince Priebus’s departure – was evident in Republican voters’ souring on Trump.
“Today, it is different,” Pollock said. “You can only reset so many times before it all gets tuned out.”
Hispanic voters show no support for Trump but praise business background
The good news for Trump: His business background still gives some voters confidence in his economic capabilities.
In the Hispanic focus group – where no one supported Trump – the eight participants were asked how much confidence they had in Trump on economic issues. Five said none. The three who said “a little” or “some” cited his business background.
But the group broadly complained that Trump hasn’t delved into any measure of specifics on policy as President.
“You’re just making general statements, so it’s all smoke and mirrors,” one Latino man said.
Another Latino man also used the phrase “smoke and mirrors,” saying that “anything (Trump) says is just almost for shock value.”
“I don’t think he has good advisers,” said a third Latino man. “He doesn’t know how to hire ‘em cause he keeps on firing ‘em.”