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Lord Ashcroft KCMG PC is a businessman, philanthropist, author and pollster. For information on Lord Ashcroft’s work, visit www.lordashcroft.com.

This week, our virtual tour of America takes us to Georgia, widely seen as a toss-up this year, despite having voted for the Republican in every presidential election since 1992, and Ohio, the quintessential swing state which has backed the losing candidate only once since 1944.

As if often the case with political news, the Hunter Biden email scandal – the claim that Joe Biden’s son was involved in corruption involving a Ukrainian energy company – seemed to have gained a great deal of attention without moving any votes.

“The more they shut those stories down on social media, the more likely I am to believe that there’s truth to it.”

Some thought there might be something in the story, including some who were leaning towards Biden, but they were unfazed:

“There’s a little bit of influence-peddling going on, it would appear, but not much compared to his competitor.”

“Politics are just a little messy, you know. Everybody’s a little messy.”

For Republicans, the bigger issue was that Twitter and Facebook had taken steps to prevent the story being shared:

“It’s starting to feel like China. The more they shut those stories down on social media, the more likely I am to believe that there’s truth to it.”

The reluctance of mainstream media channels to cover the story also appeared to provide a classic example of their bias.

“If Donald Trump can be cross-examined about his taxes, about when he take his coffee, then Joe Biden can be asked about what is going on with Hunter and whether or not the family’s getting kickbacks from foreign countries.”

“If this story were about Trump it would be absolutely non-stop. You couldn’t get away from it, it would be everywhere;” “The media is stirring the pot in one direction only.”

“If this story were about Trump it would be absolutely non-stop.”

By the same token, Trump’s tax returns, revealed four weeks ago to considerable fanfare by the New York Times, were also fading from memory, having moved few if any voters.

The story that he had paid only $750 in federal income tax in 2016, and nothing at all in 10 of the previous 15 years came as no surprise to his opponents, who either believed either that he had fiddled the figures or that he was a less successful entrepreneur than he claimed.

His supporters either cheered him on or didn’t care.

“Part of the reason I’m a Republican is because we pay too much in taxes, and because there are so many loopholes. I want simpler taxes. So if Donald Trump is using loopholes, that is Exhibit A as to why we need to overhaul our tax situation, and the Democrats are not going to do it.”

“He doesn’t take a salary. Let’s just move on to issues that actually matter.”

Republican-inclined voters we spoke to in the suburbs of Cleveland and Atlanta – often described as being queasy about Trump’s presidency – were largely resolute in their support, however disagreeable some of them found him:

“He’s like a great surgeon who is very arrogant and has a terrible bedside manner, but he’s the one you want to do your surgery.”

“I’m trying in this election to think long term instead of short term. I definitely do not enjoy Trump’s personality, but I definitely align with more of his policies, with the worldview that I carry.”

“People are imperfect. I don’t think Trump is the answer to all our problems. I just think he’s the unlikely messenger for us right now.”

As in previous weeks, we heard that the direction of policy outweighed Trump’s personal shortcomings:

“One of the high points was the reform of the justice system to end mass incarceration, the First Step Act. I’ve never heard anyone give him props for that. Anyone who thinks Trump hates anyone who it not a white American male is clearly not thinking about this.”

“There was a peace treaty in the Middle East, but none of that gets reported in the news because they look for the negative to talk about.”

“The economy has been gangbusters. In January and February I was doing overtime like crazy.”

“They would take him to a doctor and say ‘he’s deemed incompetent. Here’s our new president’.”

This was especially true in comparison to what they feared from a Biden (or Harris) administration.

“I am petrified of socialised medicine. I’ve worked with Canadians and even though they had government healthcare, they also paid for private healthcare because socialised healthcare sucked.”

“The Democrats are on the side of ‘you want to be this way, no problem. You want to be that way, no problem. Your seven-year-old feels they are meant to be green, go dye them green and you need to accept that because that’s them expressing themselves’”

“There are two issues – the Supreme Court, and I see a lot of problems with socialism. The Democratic Party is moving way too far left.”

“The Biden now is not the same as the Biden of five years ago or even a year ago. He’s referred to himself as running for the US Senate. After the election they would take him to a doctor and give him a test and say ‘oh, he’s deemed incompetent. Here’s our new president’.”

Even so, not all Trump voters would enjoy the experience of turning out for him again.

“I will basically have to force myself into doing it like I did in 2016 and then go and cry in my car afterwards. I did.”

A few had shed their qualms, however:

“Last time I had a pit in my stomach because I didn’t want Trump but I definitely didn’t want Hillary, so I voted and did the walk of shame, and I was like, what did I do? This time, absolutely 100 per cent. I’m good with it. I’m happy.

“I would lose half my business if I came out with my political views. That’s how bad it is.”

Nor would they necessarily tell anyone what they were doing – something that made them wonder if the polls were picking up the true level of support for the president.

If you’re well educated and in certain circles, if you’re voting for Trump, you keep your mouth shut.”

“I’m afraid I would lose half my business if I came out with my political views. That’s how bad it is.”

“Being a gay Republican is even more of a lynch mob, especially in Georgia. There is a preconception that I’m gay so I’m automatically a Democrat, but I can’t say anything because hell hath no fury if I do that. And I drive a pickup, so I’m automatically a redneck racist. So I got the best of both worlds!”

“One of my neighbours said a lot of Trump supporters are leaners. I was like, leaners? What do you mean, they’re on the fence? He goes, no, they lean in and quietly say ‘yeah, I’m voting for Trump’, but they’re not going to publicly say it;”

“I’ve heard people say that pollsters have asked them, and they flat out lied.”

In Georgia, we spoke to African American voters who had not turned out for Hillary Clinton in 2016, either because they did not think they needed to or because they did not think she deserved their support.

“She was a horrible senator and secretary of state. The Clintons, back when Bill was in office, incarcerated more black people than anybody. So you know, a lot of people weren’t really feeling the Clintons because of those types of things.”

“We just didn’t think he was going to win.”

This time most were resolved to get out and vote.

“The stakes are high right now because we don’t know, it’s just up in the air.”

“The difference between then and now is we have experience. I think we’re woken up. Now we see what could happen and what could possibly happen in the future.”

“It’s traumatic to think that Trump could potentially be president again. But in reality, he may very well be re-elected, because his followers are going to come out and vote. So we have to not make the same mistake.”

“You have a president stand there and say to the white supremacists, ‘stand by’. Not ‘I’m not OK with it, it’s incorrect’, but ‘stand by’. What does that mean?”

They were particularly exercised by the attitude they believed Trump had on race relations.

“You have a president stand there and say to the white supremacists, ‘stand by’. Not ‘I’m not OK with it, it’s incorrect’, but ‘stand by’. What does that mean?”

“He never once expressed his disdain for the actions of the white supremacy groups and the fact that people are bowling people over with their cars. Instead of being presidential about it, he’s saying there are good people on both sides!”

“His whole campaign started with him being divisive over immigration policy, and it’s only escalated. It’s gotten to the point where it’s not even surprising anymore;”

“We need a leader who is going to speak to us or at least directly at us, and not speak about us to other people, if that makes sense.”

“I don’t understand why we are so beholden to the Democratic party. They haven’t done anything for the people we are talking about.”

Even so, there was not a great deal of enthusiasm in the group for Biden or Kamala Harris, or for the Democrats more generally.

“Is Biden the best candidate? No, I’m not going to sit here and say he’s the best choice. But the other option is just insanity;”

“I don’t think the Democrats have learned their lesson simply because they’ve got a weak candidate. I like Joe Biden and Kamala Harris, but they’re weak;”

“We have to understand that both parties are the same. There’s no difference. Bernie Sanders was surging in the polls and had the popular vote among African Americans, then Biden sneaks in at the last minute and doesn’t really have much to offer. There’s no agenda for black people;”

“Biden is like a lot of these presidents who kind of fake that they’re not racists, but I would rather vote for that than someone who’s out and proud that they’re racists;”

“Kamala is more of the same. As attorney general of California she locked up more black people than any Republican attorney general. There’s no black agenda for the Democrats. I don’t understand why we are so beholden to the Democratic party. They haven’t done anything for the people we are talking about.”

“I completely agree that there should be parties out there that speak for us. But right now, I just feel like we’re in a hole and need to get out of it.”

How did they feel about Joe Biden “taking a knee” in support of Black Lives Matter?

“It’s a game at the end of the day. Sure, it does show some solidarity with us because obviously the Trump administration is completely against it. But do I believe that when Joe or even, heck, Nancy Pelosi got down on one knee that it was a heartfelt message? No.”

“People are hard pressed to understand what Trump will do for the next four years. He just wants to be in office.”

For voters leaning either way, both campaigns’ messages focused on their opponents, with policy largely absent from the debate:

“One of Biden’s main pitches is that Trump is mean. ‘Nobody likes him, so come on over to our side. You don’t want another mean guy for four years, do you?’”

“Trump is saying a vote for Biden is a vote for the extreme left, and Biden is saying a vote for me is just a return to normalcy and some sense of stability and calm.”

“I think people are hard pressed to understand what Trump will do in the next four years. He just wants to be in office. I think a large part of his success is that he doesn’t really stand for anything other than himself.”

“People say ‘I’m going to vote for peace’. And I think to myself, be careful, because if you’re willing to hand over the nation to very progressive, socialist ideas, you might get peace, but you’re going to lose the America that you know.”

While people on both sides yearned for an end to the division and rancour of recent years, many – again on both sides – had their doubts that a Biden presidency would produce such an outcome

“It’s like they’re going to wave a magic wand and fix everything that’s wrong now. If Jesus came back and was the president, I’m not sure he himself could do it.’

“We’ve had conflict well before this, with Trayvon Martin, and that was all with Obama. So just because we have a new president doesn’t mean the conflict is going to end.”

“Why are people saying Trump is the one dividing the country? The people that are in conflict are in conflict because of their belief systems and what they think is important. There are paid agitators like Antifa, and it’s in their best interests to keep everything in chaos to accomplish whatever the heck their agenda is.”

“I know a lot of women especially who just say, ‘I want peace, I’m going to vote for peace’. And I think to myself, be careful, because if you’re willing to hand over the nation to very progressive, socialist ideas, you might get peace, but you’re going to lose America, the America that you know. And you won’t have peace for long, if at all.”

Many in all our groups felt the election was going to be close, often echoing Biden’s observation that the race was neck and neck. Whatever the outcome, there was a widespread expectation that things would get messy.

“If Trump wins it will embolden the extremists to go even further to the extreme. And if Biden wins, the pitchforks are going to come out and you’re going to have mass riots. It’s going to be one of the two.”

Naturally enough, each side thought the other would be the one to cause the trouble.

For Biden-leaners, Trump supporters are “more cult-like. Look at QAnon. That is a fanatical, whacked-out idea. And there are so many people who believe Trump is their saviour.”

“Didn’t they just arrest people trying to kidnap the Michigan governor? We don’t see that happening on the other side.”

But for Republicans, “Picketing the streets, protests, all the things going on right now, I don’t see us doing that.”

“They’re burning down buildings in Seattle and Portland and places like that.”

“I don’t remember rioting in the street when Obama was elected.”

Most were philosophical.

“God’s will is going to be done. He has been Lord over lots of different governmental systems;”

“If Biden wins, if Trump wins, the next day I’m going to wake up, take care of my baby boy, have breakfast with my husband, and the world will continue to go around.

49 comments for: Lord Ashcroft: “If you’re voting for Trump, you keep your mouth shut.” My American election focus groups in Georgia and Ohio.

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