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Donald Trump persona, not policies concern focus group

By Eric DuVall   |   Updated March 24, 2016 at 4:28 PM
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ST. LOUIS, March 24 (UPI) -- A focus group conducted near St. Louis, the latest in a series of such tests through the presidential campaign, finds Republican voters are fretting about Donald Trump's style more than his policies.

The focus group, conducted by the Annenberg Public Policy Center, asked participants probing questions about Trump, including what song would best fit his campaign as a theme song -- "Takin' Care of Business" by Bachman Turner Overdrive was the consensus -- and what the candidate might have been like as a fifth-grader.

At the conclusion of the discussion, participants were asked to write Trump a postcard, expressing their opinions and offering advice to the candidate.

The diversity of sentiments shows just how fractured the Republican party is over Trump.

"I believe that you are a bully and misogynist and I am ashamed to have you as the front-runner for the Republican Party," one woman wrote.

Another implored Trump to tone down his over-the-top persona: "Please consider seriously the job and reputation you are hoping to achieve."

While the Republican voters expressed varying degrees of outrage and anxiety over Trump's candidacy, all agreed the greater threat was the prospect of Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton becoming president.

"The base is totally divided. The only thing they're united on is they're against Hillary Clinton," veteran pollster Peter Hart, who conducted the focus group, told NBC News. "At the same time, most of these voters are not rooting against him, they're rooting for him. A lot of them are saying that if he gives them an opportunity to accept him, they will accept him."

The University of Pennsylvania's Annenberg Center has conducted previous focus groups at points in the campaign on both the Republicans and Democrats. Hart's probing questions have often given voters the opportunity to voice their inner feelings about candidates in revealing ways that traditional polling does not.

For example, Hart's question about Trump as a child drew a range of intriguing answers. One participant said he viewed Trump as the kid who was trying to arrange lunch trades in the cafeteria. Another said she thought Trump was probably beating up children who were smaller than him. Another said he could envision Trump sitting on top of the monkey bars on the playground.

As for Trump's signature policy prescriptions, eight of the 12 participants in the focus group said they did not believe Trump would actually build a wall on the Mexican border. The border wall was one of several issues -- including Trump's call to deport 11 million illegal immigrants and prevent all Muslims from entering the country -- where voters in the group said they did not take his policies literally, but instead as rhetoric Trump was using to make himself look strong.

Participants generally agreed Trump's candidacy was a nod to the "disaffected" voters angry at stagnant wages and an administration they view as weak on the world stage.

"You had the New Deal with FDR," said one voter. "I think that [with] the disaffected, what we're seeing today is the Raw Deal."

This article was revised to reflect the following correction: The Annenberg Center is affiliated with the University of Pennsylvania, not the University of Pittsburgh.

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