Support for Donald Trump dropped significantly in a focus group of young Republican voters who watched Wednesday night’s Republican debate. Before the prime time showdown got underway, 10 of 12 focus group participants said they were leaning toward Donald Trump. After the debate, four had changed their positions, with two leaning toward Carly Fiorina and the other two undecided but leaning toward Marco Rubio and Jeb Bush. The remaining two participants supported Ben Carson and did not change their minds.
The focus group of 18- to 34-year-old Republican voters was organized for Fusion by the California-based Davis Research and conducted by Fusion’s Alicia Menendez and Republican pollster Kristen Soltis Anderson.
A number of participants felt that Fiorina had one of the strongest debate performances. Yet when asked if any of them thought that it was important to see a woman become president in their lifetime, none of the twelve young Republicans raised their hands.
Throughout the pair of debates, spanning a combined four hours, the GOP candidates failed to address issues these young Republicans felt should have been front and center. After watching both of the CNN Republican debates on Wednesday, participants in the focus group said the candidates had neglected issues like student debt and wages that are important to their generation.
After watching both debates, Abbie, a 21-year-old Republican from California told Menendez, “There was no talk about schools, student loans—nothing to help the younger generation.” Several other participants agreed that student debt and the education system was largely absent from the debate.
The young crowd of Republicans distinguished themselves from the base of their party on a number of policy positions. None of them said that Jeb Bush’s youthful marijuana use made them feel negatively about his candidacy; several actually said it improved their opinions of the candidate. A majority of the participants also supported marriage equality and a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants.
A number of participants also took issue with the GOP field’s promises to defund Planned Parenthood. Two participants articulated positive views about Planned Parenthood, recounting ways the organization had helped people in their respective high schools. Other focus group participants said they thought the candidates should try to reform rather than defund Planned Parenthood.
Trump did shine in two areas: multiple participants identified him as the candidate with whom they’d most like to have a beer. Two young Republicans identified him as the candidate who reminds them most of their parents—both citing their mothers’ Trump-like candor. “My mom is very outspoken and she doesn’t hold back what she has to say,” one participant said. “Even if it might come across a bit prejudiced at times.”
The focus group of Republican voters aged 18-34 was assembled for Fusion by Davis Research and sourced from across the Los Angeles metropolitan area. Prospective respondents were contacted randomly and a diverse sampling of voters were screened to qualify for the research study.