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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

DCorps Focus Group Targets GOP-Held Districts

The broad-based focus groups that appear on television late in the election cycle rarely offer much in the way of useful insights for political strategy. But focus groups composed of specific ‘swing voter’ demographic groups can shine valuable light on strategy choices for political campaigns.
Toward that end, Democracy Corps has just issued a report sharing the findings of their latest focus group project, targeting likely 2008 voters in two congressional districts held by GOP moderates who won close elections in 2006. All of the focus group participants were political Independents or “weak partisans” who had voted for both Democrats and Republicans over the last two elections. One focus group (conducted July 18), based in Rochester, NY, included two sub-groups, each with annual household income below $50K, older non-college educated men and non-college educated young women. The second group (conducted July 19), based in Arlington Heights, IL, was composed of older, college-educated women and younger, college-educated men, with each group earning a household income above $50K.
The focus group analysis, published as a memo by DCorps’ Karl Agne, tried to find out if GOP moderate incumbents had separated themselves from President Bush and to evaluate whether they could be defeated by Democrats next year. The analysis found a strong trend of deepening voter frustrations, a “poisonous” political environment driven by the Iraq quagmire with rising anger about the loss of life, lack of mission, wasted resources and consequent neglect of America’s domestic problems (topped by health care). Worse still for the GOP, “Positives that we used to hear on strength, commitment to the military, values and fiscal discipline have simply disappeared.”
The cautionary note sounded for Democrats is that “Optimism for the new Congress is quickly waning.” Focus group respondents credited Democrats with good intentions, wanting change and ending Bush’s ‘blank check’ in Congress. But they felt that “things simply haven’t changed under Democratic control.”
The focus group tested some pro-Democratic ads, and the analysis found that the most effective one of the lot by far nailed Bush for his vetoes of: legislation to withdraw troops from Iraq; implement homeland security recommendations; lower student loan rates; expand health coverage for uninsured children; stem cell research; and allow Medicaid to negotiate lower prescription drug prices.
With respect to Iraq, focus group participants support a carefully-calibrated withdrawal, but oppose measures to de-fund the Iraq War. However, they do want congress to overturn Bush’s vetoes. One particular catch-phrase, “Simple choice – ‘stick with Bush or get with the people” resonated with the groups.
The analysis also helped clarify the focus groups’ attitudes toward immigration. The participants generally supported both denying government benefits to non-citizens, while providing “a path to citizenship.” Concerns about “fairness” seemed to provide some common ground for a consensus on immigration reform.
Such focus groups can help discern workable strategies for winning the support of targeted swing constituencies. A lot can happen in 15 months. But, If the DCorps analysis is correct, Dems are in a strong position for a big win next year.

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