In each of the three low-information groups, Favreau asked voters to say the first word that came to mind when he said “Democratic Party.” Almost everyone repeated a handful of the same names—Barack Obama, Michelle Obama, Hillary Clinton, Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders, Nancy Pelosi, and __Bill Clinton __—along with known Republican Condoleezza Rice for some reason (“I loved her,” said George, an Ecuadoran immigrant and dog owner in Miami). Elizabeth Warren’s name came up three times. Pete Buttigieg was named once, in Philadelphia. Most of the voters said they were generally aligned with the Democratic Party on issues—especially the idea of reducing health care costs and expanding access—but that they also associated the Democratic Party with infighting, taxes, socialism, ineptitude, and “too many candidates.” Only Obama’s name elicited warm reactions among everyone.
If opinions about the Democrats were scarce, for Trump, the opposite was true. “I purposely waited to bring up Trump because I wanted to ask them about their thoughts on issues important to them and why they vote and what they think about government first,” Favreau said. “But in almost every focus group, someone just brought up Trump almost immediately. He is everywhere, like a national psychic wound.” But even as they universally expressed displeasure with Trump, including the people who voted for him in Milwaukee but flipped in 2018, almost every participant told Favreau they wouldn’t yet commit to voting for the Democratic nominee in 2020. Some said it depends on who the nominee is. Others were open to voting for a third-party candidate instead of the Democrat. “None of them really like Trump, but they don’t have much love for Democratic politicians, Republican politicians, and especially the media, which they don’t trust at all,” Favreau said. “They really do see Trump as part of a broader political media culture that’s just out of control, silly, nasty, and not focused on what they care about.” A theme that surfaced again and again, not just about Democrats but about politics generally, was that the whole process is confusing, tedious, and off-putting—and that news organizations and social media do little to make sense of it. “I don’t understand it. I haven’t even watched the news. I just turn it off and go do something else,” said Angela from Philadelphia, a Medicaid-dependent mother of an autistic child who said she was raised Democrat but no longer follows elections closely, despite voting in 2018. “What they need to do is have an ‘understanding class’ with those who don’t understand, so they can get a better election going on. Because I would love to be in politics just to see what’s going on, but as I see it now, I want no parts of it.”