Twenty-five Californians who gathered to watch the Democratic presidential debate on Thursday shared one overriding conviction: They want a nominee who can oust President Trump in November.
The voters also captured the party’s split between progressives who want to offer Medicare coverage to all Americans and moderates who prefer a more pragmatic approach to winning the crucial presidential battleground states.
The Los Angeles Times hired Republican pollster Frank Luntz to assemble the group in a television studio a few miles from the Loyola Marymount University stage where seven candidates were debating.
One of the voters said Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, a top progressive in the race, made the most favorable impression, but she still plans to vote for moderate Joe Biden, the former vice president. “He can win in the swing states,” she said.
For others, the debate reinforced misgivings about Biden, who leads in national polls of Democratic voters. “He’s just too old; he’s lost it,” one woman said.
Luntz, the author of “Words That Work,” led the conversation with the voters during commercial breaks and after the debate. Voters turned dials to register favorable or unfavorable impressions as the candidates spoke.
Luntz is a longtime pollster for Republicans in Congress. He has provided messaging advice to senior Trump administration officials, including multiple Cabinet members, acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney and Jared Kushner, President Trump’s son-in-law.
Luntz said he selected the voter group to reflect the expected demographic profile of voters in California’s Democratic presidential primary. He drew from a list of about 120,000 people who have agreed in the past to participate in focus groups, along with others who responded to ads on social media or to notices in his own social media feeds.
In choosing the participants from about 120 applicants, Luntz said he tried to strike a balance in their candidate preferences to reflect the most recent California polls, which have found Biden and Sanders and Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts in the top tier.