What Real Voters Think about Impeachment at Grand Rapids’ Brewery Vivant

Yesterday, Meet the Press did what it billed as a “focus group,” in one of five counties it predicts will decide the 2020 election (the full clip starts at 31:00). That county is Kent County, where I live. As a slew of outlets (including CJR) and individuals have noted, the sample of voters was irresponsibly unrepresentative of voters in this county. Yes, the county as a whole is very white, but the white Republicans included in the panel are far more affluent than the norm in the county (which has a median household income of $57,000).

Worse still, Meet the Press staged the “focus group” in my neighborhood brewpub, Brewery Vivant (though, predictably, none of the panelists were enjoying its superb beer), which is one of my local haunts.

What pissed me off the most is that Chuck Todd mispronounced the name of the brewery, “Vie-vant,” rather than “Vee-vant,” as if Todd has been stuck inside the Beltway for so long he doesn’t know what real life is like anymore.

And so I took matters into my own hands. With state political reporter Nick Manes and video from Carl Morrison, I decided to interview six totally random people at Brewery Vivant. To be sure, this panel is only somewhat more representative than NBC’s. The neighborhood is a liberal hotspot, even in the city as a whole, so all but one of the people we spoke with voted for Hillary in 2016. And while the people we interviewed weren’t as rich as the partner of the city’s largest law firm interviewed by Meet the Press, the neighborhood is still more affluent than the city or county. The neighborhood is predominantly white (though gets more diverse quickly just two blocks south). So these interviews aren’t meant to capture what swing voters think about impeachment or what a real cross-sample think, just what real people who could normally be found at Brewery Vivant think about it.

I’m going to post the six interviews without commentary, as I think all six offer thoughtful comment.







32 replies
  1. Badger Robert says:

    Thanks for publishing that. I would agree with Mr. Clark on most things, except we would agree to disagree about Senator Sanders.
    I think Congm Amash is going to OK in Michigan, and that is not an endorsement.

  2. Marcy_B says:

    Excellent work Chris and Nick. Thank you for taking the time to put this together.

    [Welcome to emptywheel. To avoid confusion with our site’s grand dame, I’ve modified your username to differentiate you from Marcy Wheeler. Thanks for your comment. /~Rayne]

  3. Leu2500 says:

    Chuck thinks that Grand Rapids & its surrounds are going to predict 2020? Bwahahaha! Unless things have REALLY changed since I lived there, which I haven’t heard, it will vote Republican like always. SE Michigan is where it’s won or lost. But keep an eye on Marquette County. Hillary barely won this reliably blue county in 2016. That’s when I knew she was in trouble election night.

    • Rayne says:

      Marquette’s outcome will depend heavily on youth vote. I saw more anti-Trump signage there this summer, at least nearest to the NMU campus.

    • sand says:

      “Conservative” voters in a place named after Jacques Marquette, S.J., might compare him to Donald “Bonespurs” J. Trump before casting their vote.

      When Marquette was warned of danger: “They did their best to dissuade me that I would meet nations who never show mercy to strangers, but break their heads without any cause. . . . I thanked them for the good advice that they gave me, but told them that I could not follow it, because the salvation of souls was at stake.”

      Also, I loved the interview clips from GR. Cool.

  4. earlofhuntingdon says:

    Toddler Chuck, centrist normalizing again. He must have put in some work to find his all white, professional, upper income interviewees. Otherwise, he should run to Vegas, cause he beat the odds over and over again.

    His Beer Vie-Vant pronunciation was so David Brooks faux diner interview, I almost laughed. As a Beltway denizen, he would know how to say it properly, he just assumed no one in flyover country would. Pompous ass. He probably didn’t even sample the beer, but rushed back inside the Beltway, lest he be beyond its borders after midnight and turn into a pumpkin.

  5. Desider says:

    Would be nice to repeat this format in communities nationwide – at least cut through the anonymized/weaponized social media or highly selective mainstream outlets, & get people’s thoughts direct, whatever they’re feeling, then post the results. “6 people walk into a bar…” or cafe or diner or….
    #BonVivant or #LeBonMot or #FlashChats or #CropCircles or #CrowdSource or #TippingCows or #PullUpAChair or #IfYouAskMe or something more clever than I can come up with now.

  6. BobCon says:

    This Chuck Todd bit is a pretty typical symptom of the way the press traditionally does its pulse-taking pieces. They’re scripted with the conclusion decided first and the interviews are then slotted in to fit the premise.

    It’s faster that way, but embarassing when reporters get caught, like when CNN was shown to be repeatedly returning to the same group of supposedly undecided women voters who are actually documented conservative activists, or Jeremy Peters of the NY Times claimed GOP officials were swing voters.

    I’m always bugged by how patronizing reporters and editors become when called out about this practice. When confronted with their omissions of evidence that upends the reporting, the defense inevitably becomes some variation on “but what you’re saying doesn’t relate to what the story is about” or more bluntly, “we have to fill out quota of yokel pieces, so shut up, it’s your turn.”

    • earlofhuntingdon says:

      NPR takes a similar approach in all its interviews, such as one today with the Wisconsin Democratic Party head about the state’s latest voting purge. The WDP will have to conduct outreach efforts with over a hundred thousand voters, who might have been improperly purged, to encourage them to re-register and vote.

      The last exchange captures the interview. The NPR interviewer says, in effect, “So Wisconsin voters can expect to get “annoying e-mails” from the WDP all summer. The annoyance is more likely to come from Wisconsin voters, who didn’t know they were purged. The head of the WDP shot back professionally, with a knowing voice, “I think most voters are happy to hear from us [about something so critical].”

  7. Robert Wunder says:

    Loved the on the ground interviews. I found it interesting that one of the interviewees said that they get most of their news from New York Times, but still felt she did not really have enough information on the subject. For those who have followed this impeachment evidence, its possible to get more information, withheld by the white house, but hard to see how the NY times reporting is not sufficient to draw some obvious conclusions.

    • P J Evans says:

      Given that NYT is pushing the GOP talking points, while pretending they’re being non-partisan, it may be a sign that at least some voters can see their BS.

      • Rugger9 says:

        I especially liked the plagiarism rap, which gets one booted out of any legitimate college I know of. While Judge Sullivan is as eccentric as they can be, he does enforce his rules and FWIW does not appear to suffer fools in his courtroom. So, it made Sidney Powell’s game here all the more idiotic unless it’s about getting the pardon.

        Surely, she knew about Sullivan before she signed on here.

    • P J Evans says:

      Very much not amused, I gather from reading ew and others on Twitter. And Flynn’s official lawyer is in real trouble.

  8. ernesto1581 says:

    Are they still Presbyterian up there? I believe the General Assembly met in Grand Rapids in 1924, in the midst of a slight kerfuffle concerning a foundational dispute.
    A little song, then, updated:

    What a terrible thought I am thinking
    Concerning the Great Spattered Turd,
    And of how he is besmirching
    The Constitution’s goodly Word.

    The other Parties are flocking ’round him
    And he is despised by the Squad,
    For the Great Spattered Turd of the White House
    On the Framers’ blessing has trod.

    All the other Leaders are against him
    They laugh at his puerile shame,
    They hate him because he has been chosen
    By those who hate Democracy’s name.

    Desiring to lower our Standards
    He lies when e’er he opens his Yap,
    His mind is a Selfish Sewer
    His heart it is brim full of Crap.

    What a wonderful thought I am thinking
    Concerning the twentieth of July,
    And I reckon his name is recorded
    On the wall of the nation’s lowest sty.

    (apologies to rev. guy smith. and jeremiah 12:9)

  9. orionATL says:

    this is excellent, excellent (i feel like writing more exc…’s), relevant reporting. or should I say counter-reporting. what fun it must have been to talk with these folks.

    i say “relevant” because i have been fed up for ages with these types of interviews for the reason that i think teevee does what i have suspected newspapers do with letters to the editor – pick and choose those that tell the story they want told. here it’s unvarnished, nothing-left-on-the-cuttingroom-floor, reporting.

    just an aside, but in the days when i watched, meet the press was a highly respected show. what is chuck todd doing hanging around there?

    • P J Evans says:

      Most newspapers are honest and say they select letters to appear – and will also edit them for length.

      • orionATL says:

        that’s generally true and we can appreciate that directness. but the missing information is that the paper selects the story they want to tell. what we read may or may not correspond to any significant reality our locality, region, or nation is experiencing.

        however, what i observe in the paper i’m most familiar with is not some sneaky, malign fox-or-wapo tale, but a news corporation protecting its adverising/subscription interests and income from retaliation by disgruntled partisans. the result is man-on-the-street letters selected thusly:

        one for the d’s;
        one for the r’s.
        one for the d’s;
        one for the r’s.
        one for the d’s;
        one for the r’s.

        this protects the news corporation and appears fair, but there is no reason to expect that an important issue has been analyzed, or even described, accurately.

  10. Eureka says:

    Thanks to all of the interviewees for sharing. This is the first “voters interview” feature where I have felt that I could relate to the folks speaking (or certainly the first such feature in a very long time). I enjoyed listening to each person.

    I lament that we Americans have fully embodied the *propaganda* of equipotential “both sides”, or that in all cases it is a moral obligation to invoke “both sides” as a form of social politesse +/- signal of bona fides that one is a rational human, when speaking about politics.

    It causes us to waste our time, waste our speech, delay action, and really is the worst infestation of thought-behavioral control that we’ve got going on.

    Besides that “both sides” evokes, but didn’t ever mean, the fairness of “weighing evidence”, it also signals the destruction expertise (including our own, as individuals) in favor of authority (while again tricking people into wasting time acting like it’s the opposite). And so the “authorities” recycle it ad nauseam.

    The sad thing is that we all know this, even as we speak the words “both sides” in dialogues like this. People who know what’s right, and have made their own decisions, still feel like they must give lip service to “both sides.”

    “Both sides” is a social fraud we are perpetrating on ourselves. Time to loop out of it: it will be so freeing.

    • Mitch Neher says:

      I wonder sometimes whether the current “both sides” argument may owe some tiny sliver of its origin to the line in JFK’s inaugural address where he said, “Let both sides explore what problems unite us instead of belaboring those problems which divide us.”

      Except that, way back then, there were slightly more Democrats defending Jim Crow than Republicans opposing Jim Crow. And the side that was accused of being “soft on communism” [D] was just as hard on communism as the other, accusatory side [R].

      Why, there was even one Democrat who eventually went on to accuse The Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. of being a “fellow traveler” with Communists.

      It’s almost as though “both sides” used to be within “both sides.” What’s it mean?

      • orionATL says:

        i suspect media corporation “fairness” these days owes its existence primarily to corporate fear of retaliation and loss of income, up to and including concern of major retaliation thru board of directors, good-old-boy networks, stock manipulation, or purchase.

    • Ken Muldrew says:

      The “both sides” viewpoint also fits well inside a two party system, except I don’t think the US really has a two party system anymore. The Republican Party has fractured the nation-state, devolving into a nation-party that sees the rest of the US as an external entity. They are shaped by an internal sense of community that is not extended to those outside the party and therefore all relations with those who are outside of the party, be they Democrats or Russians, are the subject of negotiations between groups that are permanently isolated from each other. They have abandoned the notion of a Party as an organizing center for political power within a State and have replaced it with an entity that is a political end rather than a means. They seek to rule from within this bastion, immiscible in the larger populace of the US, much as the Mughals ruled India. Both sides of a mobius strip.

  11. Teddy says:

    These are wonderful, as is the idea of following MTP to Chuck Todd’s other “counties of import.”

    He’s a hack and his producers need to be exposed for their bias. Your interviews did that with no ax to grind, no agenda, no slant. I endorse the suggestion above to continue this scheme, with one filigree: would a specialized fundraising event to support the effort to travel, track Todd down, and make videos where he’s lying about “heartland” voters work?

    I think ‘Wheelers would be motivated to donate to expand this program. I would be.

  12. timbo says:

    Kudos for a fun counter-interview! Love the guy with the Hollister shirt… but maybe I’m biased being from California!

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