Twenty-six men and women from across the political spectrum spent Monday evening in Ohio’s capital with some explaining that they thought Hillary Clinton’s experience was a plus, to others Donald Trump seemed like a “drunk uncle” and nearly all said they worried Ben Carson was not ready to be president.
The participants in two focus groups split by gender ranged in age from their 20s to 60s and ran the political spectrum from strongly Democratic to strongly Republican, although the groups contained slightly more Democrats. They answered pollsters’ questions about the 2016 presidential race, the state of the nation and more. Democratic pollster Peter Hart oversaw the Columbus, Ohio, sessions on behalf of the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania and moderated the discussion. The discussion was viewed over a live stream by ABC News.
Here are some opinions expressed by participants about the leading candidates:
CLINTON IS SEEN AS STRONG AND EXPERIENCED -- BUT DISHONEST
When asked what they liked and respected about the former secretary of state, both the men and women mentioned her background and experience. The men praised her gracefulness under pressure, resilience and presidential demeanor amid controversy; the women said she was “smart” and “strong-willed.”
But they also thought she was untrustworthy: When asked to describe Clinton in one or a few words, the participants used words like “liar,” “deceptive” and “don’t trust” as often as they called her “strong” and “leader.”
Men think she's "arrogant": What else bothered the men about her? The tone of your voice makes you feel like “you might be being talked down to a little bit,” B. P., a 38-year-old Democratic Clinton supporter, said (almost all the men agreed with him). Another mentioned her “questionable honesty,” and others said she was “arrogant,” “uptight,” “domineering” and that they didn’t trust her. The tone of her voice “seems a little artificial,” and she has a fake smile, they said.
Maybe they're sexist? A couple of the men reflected on their words, though. “I think males have a tendency to listen to a woman’s voice quality ... and find it more irritating,” one said. Another noted that Clinton's just acting like every other leader in the world. "She sees the game" of politics and can act tough like Russian President Vladimir Putin does, one said. A third suggested she pushes back harder out of necessity -- because "she's been discounted as a woman."
On second thought ... At the end of the session, J. S., a 47-year-old Republican finance manager who had originally said he’d never vote for Clinton, raised his hand and said he changed his mind -- that after the discussion, he realized Clinton gets more scrutiny than other candidates and that he empathized with her.
HILLARY’S LIKE AN AUNT OR STEPMOM?
Men think she's a cool aunt: Asked what family member she reminded them of, about half of the men said Clinton reminded them of an aunt or great aunt, but several said she would be an aunt that is intelligent and with whom one would get along. One man said she was like his wife’s sister: extremely opinionated and graceful at times -- but will “rip your head off at other times.”
Women are more critical: The women said Clinton was like a stepmom, because she’s “constantly having to prove herself.” Another said she was like an “evil stepmom,” and a third said Clinton reminded her of a “spinster aunt” who was a “businesswoman her whole life." Other suggested relatives included “bossy mom,” “crazy aunt nobody likes,” “bossy older sister,” “multi-tasking mom,” family member you invite to big events but not Thanksgiving, and a “wacky sister-in-law I always try to avoid because she’s harping and haranguing on things.”
TRUMP IS A ‘DRUNK UNCLE’ MOST WOULD NOT SUPPORT
Ten out of 12 men and eight out of 14 women said they would not support Donald Trump, the billionaire businessman. "He's a bully and coward," "he doesn't seem like someone I want running the country," his shtick is "all a show,” and he's "hateful,” they said.
Drunk uncle: When asked what family member he reminded them of, several referred to him as some iteration of an arrogant, drunk uncle who spouts racist comments at family gatherings. Others said he was like a “shameful in-law” or “mom’s abusive boyfriend.”
SNL was right? Their responses mirrored a focus group of men and women Republicans last month whose participants referred to him as a “drunk uncle.” (“Saturday Night Live” brought out its “drunk uncle” character earlier this month to praise Trump when the real estate mogul hosted the show.)
What word would you use to describe Trump? Men: "Idiot" (x2), "inappropriate," "brash," "arrogant," "ignorant," “arrogant a**,” “bigot,” “confident,” “bully,” “selfish” and “loudmouth drunk at a bar.” Women: “ridiculous,” “intense,” “egotistical,” “arrogant,” “racist,” “born with a silver spoon in his mouth” and “going to bankrupt the country.”
But he captures the mood of America: So say the men, who think his lack of political correctness and willingness to play an “angry” role capture the “passion” of many Americans.
LACK OF EXPERIENCE = WORRIED VOTERS
All but three of the 26 participants said they worried about Ben Carson’s competence and readiness to be president -- participants cited the neurosurgeon’s lack of experience.
All but two said Hillary was ready: Twenty-two out of 24 people said Clinton could do the job. They said she was experienced, decisive and strong. “I’m not a Hillary supporter,” said C. W., a 48-year-old woman who described herself as a “not strong Republican.” “But I think she could handle it considering her experience,” she said. Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush had some support among the men, too, with a few people describing him and Ohio Gov. John Kasich as competent and experienced.
WHAT MIGHT IT BE LIKE TO HAVE A WOMAN PRESIDENT?
The men by and large said gender should not be relevant in choosing a president but that Americans as a whole might not be ready. A couple said a woman president could be graceful and could bring a mother's instinctual desire to care for her children (i.e. the people of the United States) to the Oval Office.
Women debate if a woman would be good: A. G., a 41-year-old Republican, said she was worried a female president “doesn’t look strong enough worldwide.” Wise replied: “Don’t we deserve better for our girls?”
Greatest plus of a female president? The women said: “They care about the small guy,” and “inclusiveness.” L. S., a 22-year-old student who describes herself as an independent voter who leans Republican, said a female president would be good at multi-tasking. “I don't think a woman would get as overwhelmed as a man. I think Barack Obama feels in over his head and very overwhelmed,” she said.