Any attempt to deny Donald Trump the Republican Party’s nomination if he wins the most votes would be wrong and corrupt, a focus group of GOP voters in Pennsylvania said Wednesday night as the state’s primary approaches.
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Trump has complained about the primary system for weeks, calling it "rigged," a message that appears to resonate with these Keystone State voters.
"It’s frustrating, why bother voting if they go with whoever they want," Victoria, a Pittsburgh-area mother of two who supports Trump, said of party leaders.
The participants were identified only by their first names for privacy reasons.
Two focus groups organized by the GOP polling firm Public Opinion Strategies and Purple Strategies were questioned Wednesday evening at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. One group was made up of Republican voters from the Pittsburgh area and the second was comprised of undecided voters from the Philadelphia suburbs. Some pollsters have identified such voters as key to understanding the mood of the electorate, noting they supported President Obama in 2008 but have since drifted toward Republicans.
Both groups, which met separately, were made up of about a dozen "Wal-mart moms," women who shop there and have at least one child living at home. The retail giant was a sponsor of the sessions.
The pollsters who conducted the sessions said the participants were clearly concerned about the idea that a candidate who secures the most votes in the primary could lose the nomination after falling short of the number needed to win outright, which they said contributes to their cynical attitude about the 2016 campaign.
"Denying Trump the nomination, to these voters, would be devastating," Republican pollster Neil Newhouse said after watching the sessions. "It’s a message to the party leadership."
The focus groups also showed that many voters are confused by the technical discussions about how the Republican and Democratic Party nominating systems work, even questioned how fair they are in the long run.
"It sounds like some back-door, confusing process that just completely takes it out of the hands of voters," Democratic pollster Margie Omero of the bipartisan communications and polling firm Purple Strategies said when describing takeaways from the groups.
Both groups were focused on Trump and Hillary Clinton as the eventual nominees and showed little knowledge or interest in the other candidates still in the race: Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas and Ohio Gov. John Kasich for the Republicans; and Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont for the Democrats.
The women on the Republican panel expressed support for Trump’s strong views and background in business, but were wary of his lack of political experience and brash style.
When asked how they would feel about a Trump nomination, the Republican group used words such as "relieved" and "optimistic" and "safe."
But there was hesitation, despite expressing confidence in what they want to see if Trump wins his party’s nomination, including his ability to keep Americans safe, create jobs, and overhaul some of the Obama administration's policies.
"We’re just a little bit worried he’s not a politician," said Melody, a married mother of one who works in retail.
Another participant, Natalie, a mother of three, said "there’s a little fear he’ll do whatever he wants when he gets in" the White House.
One concern for the Clinton camp, GOP pollster Newhouse said, might be that the undecided swing-voters focus group was "more forgiving of Trump" and that the "trust issue really came to the surface for Hillary."
Some of the women on that panel said Clinton was family-oriented and used positive words to describe her values, while also remaining skeptical about her authenticity.
"I think she changes a lot," said Lisa, a 56-year-old mother of one.