A dozen Republicans spent two hours Tuesday evening telling a pollster in Indianapolis that they thought Donald Trump would make a great leader, even though “sometimes he’s an idiot." They also said they could picture Ben Carson as their grandfather and why they wanted an outsider in the White House.
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The six men and six women included a restaurant manager and credit manager, both in their 20s, to a 50-year-old party planner and a 68-year-old retiree. They were participating a focus group led by Democratic pollster Peter Hart on behalf of the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania.
Here are some key takeaways:
TRUMP AND CARSON MOST POPULAR, CARSON COULD BE YOUR GRANDFATHER
When participants were asked which GOP candidate they liked most, Trump and Carson got four votes each, Carly Fiorina received three, Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio both got two and Ted Cruz and John Kasich both got one (some people chose two candidates). Why?
- Trump’s seen as a straight-shooter: “He’s straight and to the point,” said Shawana Shelby, 45-year-old child nutritional specialist. Another added that he’s “bringing ideas to the forefront” people want taken care of but don’t like talking about. “I like that he's not afraid to step on some toes,” explained Joseph Butera, a 23-year-old restaurant manager.
- Carson comes off as intelligent and honest. He’s intelligent, personable, honest, transparent and a natural-born leader with good morals and a rags-to-riches story, people who liked him said. A 68-year-old retiree, Michael Price, said he thought Carson could bring the country together where President Obama failed. Several people described the neurosurgeon as grandfatherly.
MOST THINK TRUMP WOULD DIVIDE THE COUNTRY
Ten out of the 12 participants thought the billionaire businessman would be divisive. “He’s gonna offend everyone,” one man said. Another called him “intolerant” and said he lacked empathy. “He’s a hothead,” a third said. “He just doesn’t think.” “He doesn’t listen,” a woman chimed in. “He’s not diplomatic,” another participant added. Summing it up, a woman explained: “We like what he says -- but not how he says it.”
- Word association with Trump: Strong, disturbing, shoot-from-the-hip, divisive, leader, blunt, impulsive, self-serving, outspoken, loud, hothead, and "I don't like him."
- Then who would unite the country? Six said Carson would, and four chose Fiorina.
EVEN PEOPLE WHO LIKE ‘THE DONALD’ HAVE THEIR CONCERNS
Six people said he’d do well on immigration, and 10 said he’d handle the budget well. But eight said he’d hurt America’s standing in the world and that his persona would not always fly abroad. “He’s radically ethnocentric,” said Dwight Podgurski, a 58-year-old campus ministries coordinator. “He doesn’t seem like much of a diplomat,” added Anne Barber, a 64-year-old instructor at a YMCA. A Trump supporter, Christopher Berry, 50, who works in agriculture, said the businessman is “too much of an entertainer, and these are serious issues.”
- Then why do they like him? One man said Trump was most likely to beat the Democrats, his most important criterion. Lorinda Phelps, a 34-year-old photographer, said the challenges facing the United States were too significant to worry about whether Trump was diplomatic enough: “He’s not really a people person, but we need to get our country back to where it needs to be.”
- "I can look over him being a jerk ... as long as what he’s doing for the country is going to better my standard of living,” Phelps continued. “I think the issues that he says he’s going to take care of outweigh the fact that sometimes he’s an idiot.”
BUSH’S SEEN AS AN UNPOPULAR, COATTAIL-RIDING ‘OOPS BROTHER’
Bush was criticized for running off his family’s fame and being a professional politician. He didn’t get many accolades, except from a couple participants who struggled to articulate why they liked him.
- Word association for Bush: Career politician (thrice), family, pushover, Florida, conservative, “been there, done that” and “I don’t like his stand on immigration.”
- If he were a member of your family, he’d be the ... family dog, ex-brother-in-law you used to like but don’t like any more, drunk uncle, or the “oops brother” who’s 10 or 12 years younger than the others.
RUBIO IS STILL SOMEWHAT OF AN UNKNOWN
Half of the participants said they didn’t know enough about him to do simple word association for him. Those who did cited his values and experience.
- He’s a sidekick (or potential vice president pick)? Two people said that if Rubio were to be represented by any fictional character, he would be Batman’s sidekick, and another said Linus from Peanuts -- since “he’s kind of, like, there.” A fourth suggested The Flash since Rubio is young and needs to move around quickly to catch up.
THE YEAR OF THE OUTSIDER: ‘WE’RE OUT TO CLEAN HOUSE’
Participants explained why they wanted a president without political experience. “We're sick of career politicians,” Phelps said. “We’re out to clean house." Politicians “don’t keep their word, their morals are loose. They don’t have values,” added Shonda Sonnefield, a 40-year-old homemaker. Ten out of 12 people weren't concerned that the job of president was so significant that it demanded experience, saying you can surround yourself with smart people and bring in experience from the non-political world to get things done.
- But is a billionaire the answer? "We have no faith in politicians,” said Phelps, who described herself as moderate and had some college experience. “Not that I see Trump as a peer, but he’s more of a peer than some of these people out in the White House.”