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Swing Voters Say the Darndest Things

A group of Trump-to-Biden voters talk about why they like Liz Cheney, the don't believe the #StopTheSteal nonsense, and they're . . . onboard with Kari Lake?!?
June 29, 2022
Swing Voters Say the Darndest Things
A sticker sits on Justin Boroms shirt after voting in Arizona's primary election at Burton Barr Central Library on August 4, 2020 in Phoenix, Arizona. Larger venues have been catered to allow for social distancing as adjustments are made in light of the coronavirus pandemic. (Photo by Courtney Pedroza/Getty Images)

As the House January 6th Committee hearings go on hiatus for the next few weeks, it’s useful to know how the most important electoral weather vanes—aka Trump-to-Biden swing voters—view the two key Republicans associated with the proceedings: Committee Vice Chair Liz Cheney and former President Donald Trump. Is their political stock going up or down?

Of the 13 Trump-to-Biden Arizona voters who participated in this month’s Swing Voter Project online focus groups on June 13, only 5 watched the primetime hearing on June 9. (Only eight even knew there was a primetime hearing that day.) All five hearing-watchers heaped praise on Cheney, calling her “brave” and a “true Republican,” among other compliments. One respondent, Chaunsy, 47, from Goodyear, said, “I wish she was running for president.”

Maureen, 61, from Chandler, explained Cheney is brave because “she’s stepping out against her own party and condemning [Trump], instead of just being one of the crowd, just going along with the whole deal.”

This admiration of Cheney was the polar opposite of most of the group’s feelings about former President Trump. Ten respondents said Trump should be criminally prosecuted for his role on Jan. 6th and the days leading up to it. They see him as an instigator and conspirator who should be held accountable.

According to David, 40, from Mesa: “Trump does deserve to be criminally prosecuted. I mean, the facts are there. It’s very clear to me. I mean, he can’t be above the law, period.”

Lorene, 57, from Phoenix added, “If he was anybody else, he would be criminally prosecuted. So what makes this any different?”

When asked his opinion about prosecuting Trump, Chaunsy said, “It is illegal for you to go into a crowded theater and yell ‘Fire,’ and that’s what he did. He promoted pandemonium and got away with it. . . . He should be prosecuted for that.”

But this sentiment was not universal. One respondent, Jonas, 52, from Phoenix defended Trump: “He didn’t tell them to storm the Capitol. He didn’t point to the Capitol and say, ‘Okay, everybody go jump in there and storm it.’”

Another, Lance, 55, from Scottsdale, asked, “So how do you prosecute someone with our money . . . when he hasn’t been charged yet, a year and a half later?”

None of the 13 participants believes that the 2020 election was rigged or that Trump’s stolen-election claims were legitimate. Yet those grievances are in play for Arizona’s August primaries.

For many of these respondents, having leading 2022 primary candidates claim the 2020 election was stolen was disqualifying. We focused specifically on Blake Masters, who is running for the U.S. Senate in Arizona, and Kari Lake, who is running for Arizona governor. The group reacted in varying ways.

One common viewpoint was that the subject of a stolen election two years ago has been exhausted, and it’s time to move on to focus on the present.

“It almost seems like with Masters and [Lake], that they’re just trying to grab that emotion within us that, you know, we’ve been cheated, rather than dealing with all the other issues,” complained Michelle, 50, from Phoenix.

Added Lorene, “I’m so sick of this subject. . . . I want to live in the present and not the past. I want a politician who’s going to live in the present and not the past. And, if all we can talk about is the past, then that’s not somebody that I’m on board with.”

Ryne, 30, from Phoenix, declared, “​​It’s over and done with, this 2020 election. It’s over and you can’t change the past. For you to keep bringing this up, you’re just a sore loser, and no telling what other bad habits that a person like that might have.”

Even so, Ryne did not think that promoting false stolen-election lies automatically disqualified a candidate. With regard to Kari Lake specifically, Ryne said that she had other positive qualities that counterbalance her stolen-election claims. Therefore, even though Ryne disagrees with her stolen-election claims, he “wouldn’t give her 100 percent of the vote yet—but she is [at] 99.”

Other respondents agreed with Ryne that they would not automatically dismiss a candidate for claiming the election was stolen. The reason? It’s common for politicians to make claims like this.

“Trump’s not the first person to claim it,” said Lance, offering the cynical view that this is just what politicians do. “Al Gore claimed it [in 2000]. We can go back as far as you’d like, probably.” (For the record, Al Gore did not claim that the 2000 election was stolen. See his deeply moving concession speech, here.)

Take from this jumble what you will: Thirteen voters who went for Trump in 2016, but then Biden in 2020. All of whom admire Liz Cheney. None of whom believe the 2020 election was stolen. But some of whom think that promoting lies about the election having been stolen is disqualifying. And at least one of whom is 99 percent of the way there to voting for Kari Lake.

Rich Thau and Jill DiTommaso

Rich Thau is the president of the research firm Engagious, which specializes in message testing and message refinement for trade associations and advocacy groups. He is also the moderator of the Swing Voter Project, conducted in partnership with Schlesinger Group. Jill DiTommaso is an intern at Engagious and a student at Haverford College.