The Wal-Mart Moms don’t expect much.
A focus group of 10 middle-class mothers expressed profound cynicism about government, questioning whether the nation’s leaders even understand their lives or have the desire to work together to benefit people like them, as they gathered Wednesday night in fluorescent-lit conference room in Bala Cynwyd Wednesday night.
And yet beneath their pessimism were contrary sprigs of hope – that the economy is improving, and that President Obama and the Congress might accomplish something.
“They may have a vague idea from reports but they don’t get what it is to live in a neighborhood where you don’t feel safe going out at night, or fighting for a job that you have the degree for, the job you can’t get,” Christine M., 30, a clerk-typist, said of politicians. She voted for Republican Mitt Romney for president.
Katie M, who said she also backed Romney, expressed a sense of America in decline. “In everything, we’re not as good as we used to be,” said the 36-year-old resource manager and mother of three.
The moderator played four clips from Obama’s Tuesday State of the Union address to gauge reactions. Most thought his proposal to wage the federal minimum wage to $9 an hour was a waste of time because nobody could live on even a full-time job paying that little. They liked the idea of universal pre-school, but questioned how it could be made affordable for people like them. Obama’s idea of making the U.S. a “manufacturing magnet” to create jobs got some praise, yet many had questions how it would work.
“It’s encouraging, his speech, but then you hear it all the time,” Diane E., 51, a manager at a bulk-mailing company. “Also, watching it, you see the vice president in the back laughing and clapping and that other joker, that Republican dude, just sitting there. And you saw the group, some standing up and clapping and others just sitting there. That’s why nothing’s going to happen.”t
The women, drawn from Philadelphia and its Pennsylvania suburbs, are Wal-Mart moms, coveted swing voters who shop at the discount superstore at least once a month and have children at home under the age of 18. Public Opinion Strategies, a Republican polling firm, and Momentum Analysis, a Democratic firm, have been studying the group extensively in opinion surveys and focus groups for the past four years.
Like swing voters overall, the Wal-Mart moms broke for Obama in 2008, swung back to Republicans in the 2010 midterm elections for seats in Congress, and voted to reelect the president last year, though narrowly. They comprise about 27 percent of registered women voters, a 14-percent chunk of the whole electorate.
Pollsters who have studied them say Wal-Mart moms are not particularly partisan. Most are between 18-44 years old, a plurality have household incomes of $60,000 or lower; half have a college education; 72 percent of them are married. More than two-thirds are white.
Overall, the focus group of women in Bala Cynwyd could not identify a coherent Republican message, or sense of what the party’s congressional wing is offering as an alternative to Obama’s proposals. The one exception: several said “cutting taxes” or keeping them low was a top GOP priority.
Most of them were not sympathetic to illegal immigrants and their desire for a path to citizenship. There was broad consensus in the group to take action to crack down on gun violence, though some of the women would emphasize mental-health care and others would go after assault weapons. They were skeptical of Obama’s call to act on climate change.
At the end, though, when asked to write down how hopeful they were on a scale from one to 10, the scores were surprisingly high. “I believe at some point everybody’s going to have to sit down,” said Christine M., the clerk-typist.