Skip to main content

Focus Group: Shared Priorities, Shared Skepticism After SOTU

Washington, D.C.– A focus group of swing voters watching Tuesday’s State of the Union address were sharply polarized when it came to President Trump’s immigration proposals, but strongly supported his calls for expanded vocational education and paid leave. The focus group, hosted by the Bipartisan Policy Center, was comprised of 12 voters who changed party allegiances between the 2012 and 2016 presidential elections—having voted for either President Obama in 2012 and President Trump in 2016, or for Mitt Romney in 2012 and Hillary Clinton in 2016.

Both Obama-Trump and Romney-Clinton voters gave Trump’s remarks on vocational education and paid family leave their highest scores of the night, while both groups also gave Trump their lowest marks for his comments on clean coal. Despite that bipartisan alignment, the panel showed little optimism that President Trump will reach across the aisle in the coming year to make progress on key issues. In fact, these swing voters felt less optimistic about the chances for bipartisanship after the address. Before the speech, the panel rated their optimism for bipartisanship in 2018 at 4.2 out of 10 but only 3.6 out of 10 after its conclusion.

What we saw on our panel last night highlights the large and growing gulf between the American people and their elected leaders.

“What we saw on our panel last night highlights the large and growing gulf between the American people and their elected leaders,” said BPC President Jason Grumet. “Voters of all stripes support action on paid leave, infrastructure, and lowering drug prices, but the parties in Congress remain as entrenched in opposition as ever. The appetite is there for bipartisan action; Congress just needs to find the will.”

President Trump’s remarks on immigration were among the more polarizing for BPC’s focus group, with Obama-Trump voters largely supportive and Romney-Clinton voters largely opposed. Neither group of voters responded positively to Trump’s call for a border wall, and both groups were skeptical about his proposed 12-year path to citizenship for DREAMers. Among some Obama-Trump voters on the panel there was sharp disagreement on whether 12 years was too long or too short a wait.

“We continue to believe that limiting the scope of an immigration deal to a permanent DACA fix and increased investment in border security offers the best chance for Congress and the White House to reach agreement,” said Grumet. “It is clear, however, that the politics of this issue have become challenging. Members of Congress are going to need to put a bit of trust in each other and agree to swallow a few bitter pills to get this done.”

This panel was the first organized by the Bipartisan Policy Center to respond to a State of the Union Address. The 12 voters in the group all reside in Maryland, Virginia, or the District of Columbia, and represent a range of age groups, educational levels, and ethnicities.