Harmony Goldberg

Unique “Front Porch Focus Group” Explores the Appeal of Trump’s Right-Wing Message with White Working-Class Voters (Working America)

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Working America,the commmunity affiliate of the AFL-CIO, reached out to 1,689 likely voters with household incomes of $75,000 or less in working-class neighborhoods outside Cleveland and Pittsburgh in what they called a “front porch focus group” – conducted in person at their front doors. It offers helpful insights for organizations taking up the work of organizing swaying white working class voters.

Although the media are generally claiming the white working class for Donald Trump, more than half (53%) of those with whom we spoke are still undecided, trying to sort out their own views against a backdrop of economic uncertainty and social churn. They are perplexed by the large number of candidates; influenced by Trump’s lopsided media exposure; unanchored from traditional party loyalties; eager for information from trusted sources; and longing to be heard and to feel like their concerns and their votes matter…

While our findings are preliminary, a few critical insights are emerging:

Worry is more prevalent than bigotry in determining voter choices. Historically, about one-third of the people we encounter on the canvass are ideologically right-leaning – and this test was no different. Among these voters, attacks on immigrants; on African-Americans, including President Obama; and on Muslims resonate, and hold sway.  However, a far greater number of prospective voters are more deeply concerned about the economy and about their fates, and the future of their families, in a time of rapid change. When a conversation about the issues comes to the fore, many are willing to hear new information. This ability to connect with more and better information, and to gain a different perspective on the systemic reasons for economic, political and social inequality, is a major antidote to the dog-whistle politics of bigotry.

The frustration with politics is pervasive. White working-class voters often feel powerless to change a government that they do not see as respecting their concerns or serving their needs. They want things to be different but despair that they ever will be. Working America, as an ongoing organization, credibly broadens the discussion from elections to political accountability. We talked to voters not just about their vote choice but the importance of holding elected officials accountable after the election, and we found this useful in addressing voter frustration.

The medium is central to the message: Face-to-face conversations are critical for breaking through reflex thinking on difficult issues. Working-class voters are hungry for an independent voice to deliver clear information and with whom they can discuss the issues. Many who said Trump appealed to them because he “speaks his mind” didn’t see a way forward other than through the firestorm of Trump’s rhetoric. For some, however, our engagement – a combination of validation and information – gave them pause.

You can read the full results of this focus group here:  http://workingamerica.org/frontporchfocusgroup

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