David Binder Research conducted two focus groups among Iowa voters from Polk County and surrounding areas and one focus group with Iowa voters exclusively from rural areas and small towns outside of Polk County, on August 13 and 14, 2019. The participants in these groups all voted for Donald Trump in 2016, most voted for Obama in 2012, and all are undecided about their vote choice in 2020.

In a projective exercise, focus group respondents were asked to compare the President to an attraction at the Iowa State Fair, which was in progress at the time the focus group sessions were held.

Some of these voters compared the President to the Midway, explaining that the numerous rides and attractions were busy and distracting, which are associated with the President.

A few voters stated that the police presence at the Fair reminded them of the President, because he is a strong supporter of law enforcement and the military.

However, the most consistent answer – mentioned in every group – was that the President reminded them of Bobo the insult clown.   When asked to explain, voters said that the President’s constant tweeting in which he frequently criticizes or mocks those who oppose him, are not that different than Bobo shouting insults to random passers-by at the Fair. Despite voting for the President, and in some cases still strongly supportive of him, the image of a barking abrasive clown shouting at people, was an image associated with the President.

Similar comparisons were heard in the run-up to the 2016 election, when some said that President Trump reminded them of a carnival barker. However, that didn’t stop these voters from choosing Trump, whom they felt represented change to a much greater degree than the alternative, Hillary Clinton. To them, change was more important than personality or style.

At this point in the Presidential campaign, Democrats may again be tempted to focus solely on Trump’s personality or behavior on Twitter, but in-depth discussions with these focus group respondents indicate that that alone will not cause previous Trump voters to select a Democrat in the 2020 election campaign.

While voters are quick to say that the President needs a filter, or needs to think further before he speaks, they accept this as part of who he is.  What makes a bigger difference to these Trump voters is if they believe he is on their side, or whether he more frequently working on behalf of the wealthy, big corporations and special interests.

In these sessions, some of the biggest complaints about the President surrounded his trade policies which are viewed as hurting Iowa farmers and Iowa’s agricultural industry. They bristle when they hear that the President’s EPA has granted waivers for big oil companies so that they can circumvent regulations requiring use of ethanol.  They show high level of concern that the President cares more about oil companies than ethanol producers and corn growers. 

Results of these focus group sessions indicate that Democrats need to give voters a reason to choose them, and prove that they have a vision for change and will put people first – ahead of the oil companies and wealthy special interests that the President is focused on. Democrats must show them an economic plan that realistically encompasses their rural communities and industries – demonstrate that people like them will be better off.

While these Trump voters certainly don’t want Bobo the Clown as President, they are likely to vote to re-elect the President unless they hear in convincing terms that Democrats are offering something different, including a positive vision of the future where they vigorously will fight on behalf of the average American.






Des Moines, IA

August 13, 2019


Trump 2016, Undecided 2020, some Obama 2012, women


Trump 2016, Undecided 2020, all Obama 2012, men

August 14, 2019


Trump 2016, Undecided 2020, some Obama 2012, Rural/small town outside of Polk County, mixed gender