These early moments from the focus groups were a taste of the unexpected, illuminating, and nuanced opinions that surfaced during the discussions, which we posted as edited transcripts (along with video clips). Using roughly the same questions for each group, we saw some of the predictable partisan divisions, but also some overlap: Not only Republicans, but Democrats had some empathy for some of the Americans who stormed Capitol Hill. , normally viewing them as people who had real and understandable frustrations with “the system”. The rioters went too far, but their frustrations, with the parties, with Washington, seemed recognizable to some Democrats, as my colleague Laura Reston pointed out.
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These focus groups are the first in a new series from Times Opinion: We want to explore Americans’ perspectives on the most critical and pressing issues and issues of the day. While we publish dozens of guest essays and columns per week by seasoned experts and writers, we also wanted to find new ways to explore and hear the opinions of a wider range of Americans. Focus groups are a small way to listen to the unfiltered voices of people talking about their vision for America and its future, and to expand the role of commentary and opinion journalism to include voters who often feel speechless in the national conversation.
We wanted to kick off the focus groups with a discussion of the health of America’s democracy, a top priority for Times Opinion, and a topic explored in depth in several guest essays this week around January 6. Rather than having a focus group with just Democrats or Republicans (in general, I’ve learned, focus groups don’t mix!), We decided to have two groups so that we could hear from members of both parties. Firms Omero and Soltis Anderson oversaw the selection of participants, striving for a diverse mix reflecting the makeup of the parties. The Times paid Omero and Soltis Anderson to organize and lead these focus groups; they do similar work for political candidates, parties and interest groups.
There were many divisions: Democrats broadly rated the health of our democracy as being in “critical condition,” while Republicans largely fluctuated between “poor” and “fair.” Several Democrats strove to blame the system of government and politics in America for the state of democracy and the events of January 6. , more mandates, lobbying reform. For some Republicans, the threat to democracy came more from the government’s mandates and guidance on Covid-19, and an unfounded claim that Democrats would use the pandemic to push for more postal votes in 2024.
But there was also dissatisfaction with their own party leaders.
Republicans were frustrated with GOP officials whom they saw as motivated solely by self-interest. Several Republicans were prepared to criticize Donald Trump, but they did not like displays of disloyalty from members of his cabinet and his allies who criticized him publicly. And, as Soltis Anderson noted, some Republicans argued that the rioters were separated from the âStop the Stealâ protesters on January 6. (âTrump’s people don’t act like that,â one Republican said of the rioters.)