In Arizona, where the Great Recession cut a deep swath through home prices and shook all facets of the economy, voters are now increasingly buoyant about the fiscal future they envision for themselves and the nation.
They’re saving their ire for politics and politicians.
More than two dozen voters gathered in Phoenix this week delivered a bipartisan broadside against President Trump, Republicans and Democrats, dismissing the political class as serving its wealthy benefactors and abandoning everyday Americans.
Their fiercest disappointment was aimed at Trump.
Arizona has been something of a desert mirage for Democrats in recent years; Hillary Clinton made a late stab at the state before November’s presidential election, but Trump won easily.
Eight months later, however, even many of his supporters have thrown up their hands at his presidency.
“I loved him because he was different. I thought that he was really going to do a lot of change, good changes,” said one Republican woman. “I hated Obama, so I was ready for a change.”
Now, she said, “people are laughing at us.”
“Before I felt like he could do it all, and now I think just if somebody can control him a little bit.”
She said she will not vote for Trump again unless he fulfills his campaign promises — specifically his pledge to provide better healthcare at a cheaper price. She noted that he had ultimately supported GOP healthcare plans that did “the opposite.”
The focus groups, organized by Priorities USA, a liberal advocacy group, were meant to probe voter views in advance of the 2018 midterm elections. Reporters were allowed to view six hours of questioning on the agreement that they not specifically identify the voters.
The questions largely revolved around views of Trump and Republican efforts to pass healthcare and tax reform measures. Yet in the process, participants voiced strikingly little support for Democrats nor any enthusiasm about using their vote to cast out Republicans next year.
“Democrats are doing something badly wrong,” said one Democratic-leaning voter, saying the party “should have done a better job” last year. “Democrats are flailing.”
“I think the government is totally corrupt,” said an independent voter who leaned toward Democrats in elections but disparaged both sides.
Jefrey Pollock, a Priorities pollster who conducted the focus groups, acknowledged that “it’s not all roses for the Democrats.”
“The Democrats still have to put forward an economic vision that is persuasive,” he said. The 2018 election “isn’t just all about being anti-Trump. It’s not.”
Although Republicans control both houses of Congress and the White House, he said, infighting between the parties and the absence of any successful and popular legislation has tarnished both sides.
“The soup of Washington has become so thick they just believe everyone is stuck in it,” Pollock said of voters. “The Democrats do have to put forward a sort of bold positive.” As a Democratic partisan, he insisted that “they have” made positive proposals, “but the people need to hear it,” he said.
Since the election, in which he received 46% of the vote, Trump’s popularity has slumped. Polls by a half-dozen nonpartisan survey organizations in the last week have shown his job approval dropping again after several months of a stable, albeit low, plateau. Fewer than 40% of Americans have a favorable view of his performance in office, the polls indicate.
Trump’s drop in polls has featured a notable decline in support among independents and a smaller, but still significant, decline among moderate Republicans.
That decline was reflected in all three focus groups, both a Republican-dominated one and two that included Democrat-sympathetic voters.
Earlier focus groups in Florida and Ohio — two states Trump wrested from the Democrats in 2016 on his way to victory — showed the same drop in Trump support, pollsters said.
Among Republicans in Arizona, Trump seemed to have morphed from outsider candidate to just another politician, a dangerous transition at a time when anyone involved in politics is looked upon with disdain.
Asked whether Trump sided with regular people or big corporations, nine of 10 in the Republican group said he sided with corporations. All 10 said Republicans in Congress sided with corporations. Two said Democrats sided with ordinary people. Sentiments were not dramatically different in other groups.
“They’re all the same; they’re all puppets,” said one Trump voter.
One voter brought up the case of former Utah Rep. Jason Chaffetz, who recently resigned his seat after complaining that he no longer could afford to maintain homes in two places.
“Seriously?” asked one voter, who had backed both Arizona Sen. John McCain and, in 2012, Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign. “To be fair, that’s insane…. These guys have healthcare for life, six-figure incomes … a pay raise and considerable benefits, and we’re supposed to have sympathy for them?”
Another Trump and McCain supporter cited the senator’s recent cancer treatment at the nearby Mayo Clinic to signal the difference between elected officials and people like her. McCain, she said, was certain to maintain care at the highly regarded hospital, a circumstance she said would not be afforded to most of those McCain’s age who are covered by Medicare.
“What about the rest of us?” she asked.
Still, several in the Republican-leaning group held out hope that Trump would find a way to right his presidency, although they suggested he has mere months to do so.
Asked what the president would have to do to gain her vote in 2020, one independent replied, “I think he needs to become more humble.”
The criticisms of the president were all the more notable considering many voters expressed support for some of his positions. Several Latino and millennial voters — groups generally allied with Democrats — favored refocusing the nation’s attention and resources to this country rather than spending overseas. That was a major argument Trump made during his campaign.
“Stop worrying about the rest of the world,” said one independent voter. “See what happens.”
“Focusing on America — not what Korea’s doing, what Russia’s doing. Just us,” another said.
Before I felt like he could do it all, and now I think just if somebody can control him a little bit.
Another sign of the shifting views was Republican voters’ abandonment of traditional GOP positions on tax reform, the subject of the next fight in Washington.
Republicans have proposed a plan that would lower rates on businesses and particularly benefit the wealthy, who pay more in taxes than the less well-off. The Arizona voters were dismissive of one traditional GOP plan — simplifying tax rates — and expressed suspicion about the impact of the reforms.
Even more than Latino voters or millennials, Republicans expressed fear that GOP tax plans would benefit corporations instead of the middle class. They turned aside what has been a tenet of GOP tax policy for more than a generation: that tax cuts for corporations and the wealthy would trickle down to others lower on the economic ladder.
Much of their concern seemed to reflect lasting unease stemming from the economic collapse of 2008. That same sentiment helped propel Trump in 2016 — and in the absence of any measurable improvements from Washington, now threatens him.
“People in Arizona and Ohio, all these other groups in other places in the country, thought after the crash that Wall Street and big corporations were made whole again, and they were left behind,” said Patrick McHugh, the executive director of Priorities, who observed the focus groups.
“Trump made a lot of promises to address those issues. He’s now president…. He’s now responsible for fulfilling those promises.”
In all three groups, voters seemed less angry than disgusted. Rather than make America great again, several suggested, Trump has ushered in decline.
“We’ve lost our way as people,” one independent voter said. “The government itself and the elected officials are fattening their pockets off our backs.”