Polarized Democrats, Republicans united in anger toward Washington, elected officials: Focus group

Pollster Frank Luntz spoke with two dozen self-identified "angry" voters.

April 29, 2018, 9:07 AM

One of the only things Republicans and Democrats seem to agree on these days is that they don’t agree on much of anything.

With just a few months until the midterm elections, ABC News Contributor Frank Luntz, who has also worked as a conservative and corporate pollster, set out to explore those political divisions.

Can people from opposing sides agree on anything?

Luntz spoke with two dozen participants -– 12 Democrats, 12 Republicans -– all of whom self-identified as “angry” voters.

He found nothing short of profound frustration this week during a discussion with voters in Orlando, Florida. More than 18 months since the 2016 presidential election, emotions about the race are still raw.

PHOTO: President Donald Trump speaks at a press conference at the White House in Washington, D.C. April 27, 2018.
President Donald Trump speaks at a press conference at the White House in Washington, D.C. April 27, 2018.
Kay Nietfeld/dpa via Newscom

Having conversations and maintaining relationships with people from the other party proved to be difficult, too, the group admitted. Nearly two-thirds of the participants said they had stopped speaking with a friend or family member as a result of the election.

“It becomes exhausting to do nothing but argue with people that you once loved or that you grew up with," said Nan Parratto-Wagner, a Republican. "At some point, you simply have to say: 'I'm moving on.'”

For Democrats, it was a struggle to understand how anyone could have voted President Trump.

“I just felt like I couldn’t be friends with anyone who agreed with our current politics," said April Lowe-Royster, who said she tends to vote as a Democrat. "My position was: ‘No, you may not be racist, but I mean, I think you're saying you're OK with racism.’”

The accusation of racism underpinning support for the president set off a furious debate and put Republicans on the defensive.

After Wendy Harmon, a Democrat, said she believed President Trump’s focus on illegal immigration created an “us-against-them mentality,” Santiago Avila, Jr., a Republican who voted for Donald Trump, reacted with frustration.

“My dad voted for Trump,” Avila, who is Latino, said. “Why? Because he came here legally. My wife came here legally from Ecuador. Why is it fair for somebody to get in front of the line when you come here illegally?”

Luntz also uncovered starkly different experiences in the group. When he asked which groups the participants believe face the most difficult challenges in America, Democrats clustered around “blacks and African Americans” and “Muslims,” whereas Republicans gravitated toward “hardworking taxpayers,” “the middle-class” and “people of faith.”

Perceptions about President Trump’s major legislative accomplishment –- the tax reform package -– divided along party lines as well.

Republicans, who seemed slightly more passionate in their approval and support of the law, offered phrases like “well-deserved,” “great,” “welcome relief,” and “excellent for economic growth.” Democratic respondents described it as “a lie,” “confusing,” “supporting the rich,” and “near-sighted.”

“If this isn’t tribalism as they have defined it, I don't know what is," Luntz said after tallying the responses. "It’s like we are two separate countries.”

Despite these differences, there was a consensus about who is to responsible for America’s failure to tackle the biggest challenges: Lobbyists, special interests and the federal government bureaucracy shared bipartisan ire.

PHOTO: The House Chamber on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., Dec. 8, 2008.
The House Chamber on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., Dec. 8, 2008.
Susan Walsh/AP, FILE

But participants saved their toughest criticism for Congress, describing elected officials from both parties in Washington as “self-serving,” “irrelevant,” “lazy,” and “corrupt.”

In fact, when Luntz asked if the two-party system is so broken that we should seek an alternative, there was near unanimous agreement.

Participants also agreed to continue these conversations, even if they might be difficult.

“People need to able to sit and have uncomfortable conversations and ask the hard questions,” said Haley Graves.

“We can come to a consensus,” Avila said. “Somewhere in the middle, we can meet and say we’ll help this much here and we’ll help this much over here."

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