Watching a group of Walmart Moms discuss the presidential election last week, shed some light on why North Carolina is regarded as a toss up state.
The moms were disappointed with the performance of Democratic President Barack Obama because of the difficult economic times of the past four years.
But Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney was not close to making the sale. He was seen as too rich, too aloof, and as somebody who did not understand their lives.
Walmart, the retail giant, hired Margie Omero of the Democratic firm Momentum Analysis and Alex Bratty of the GOP firm Public Opinion Strategies to hold focus groups with Walmart shoppers across the country in such cities as Denver and Columbus. A Walmart Mom is defined as a voter with children aged 18 or younger living at home who has shopped at a Walmart at least once in the last month.
Last Wednesday, nine women sat down in a west Raleigh office building off Creedmoor Road, to talk about the presidential race for 90 minutes. I watched from behind a one-way mirror.
During the past two election cycles, Walmart Moms – or to put it another way, middle class women – have tended to be a swing group, and this group seemed to fit the bill. The Raleigh group – eight whites and one black, ranging in age from 25 to 50, included homemakers, a nurse, a pre-school teacher, a small business owner, a department store sales associate and a student. They seemed non ideological, were mainly worried about kitchen table issues, and each said she was undecided.
They were not happy with their choices.
Frustrated with Obama
Asked for one word to describe Obama, they threw out words like “disgusted,” “frustration” “indifferent” or “it’s not getting better” “disconnect” and “loss of jobs.”
At the heart of their discontent was the economy. They worried about husbands losing their jobs, talked about belt tightening, about stay-vacations, and how they were going to afford retirement.
“Disgusted with the way the economy has gone,” said Stephanie, 25. (The women were identified by their first name on.) “I’ve seen a lot of drops in jobs. You can just tell by the way the traffic is in the morning. It’s not nearly what it used to be. That’s great for getting to work on time, but it’s sad for everything else.”
But the moms did not seem to be closing off the option of voting for Obama.
Several mentioned that Obama couldn’t solve all the nation’s problems alone, and that he needed the help of Congress, who they also blamed. Several noted that Obama had inherited a difficult situation.
“I feel more compelled toward him (Obama),” said Jennifer, 38. “I feel he is more real. I don’t have warm and fuzzy feelings toward Romney.”
The women seemed to like Obama on a personal level – although several expressed reservations about what they perceived as the spending habits of First Lady Michelle Obama. She even got the blame for apple slices replacing French fries in McDonald’s happy meals.
Romney seen as aloof
While several women said they respected Romney’s business career, he had not yet made a personal connection with many of the women.
The words they associated with Romney included “clueless, “fake” and “deceitful.” Even the story of Romney putting his dog on the roof of his car during a family trip was brought up.
One woman doubted that Romney had ever been in a grocery store.
“He’s not going to relate to them,” said Teresa, 40. “He is so beyond wealthy. And he has these accounts offshore and is secretive and shady. He’s just this billionaire, shady kind of mess.”
But Michelle, 25 said, Romney was very smart.
“I personally think when it comes to the economy you’re probably not going to get anyone better suited. And to me I feel that the economy is a big part of this election. You can’t be that rich, like everybody’s saying, without knowing a thing or two about money. Granted he may have screwed people over somewhere along the line, but probably Obama has and anyone else.”
There was desire for someone else. One woman said she wished that General Colin Powell was running.
One dreamed of a composite candidate, who would be respectful of women’s rights and also be fiscally conservative.
“I’d like a Democratic president and have a conservative to handle our money,” said Cathy, 39.
The women were disgusted with the barrage of negative TV ads, and said they had a difficult time discerning what was true and not true. They said they watched the ads with a very high degree of skepticism, and didn’t believe most of what they saw.
“This is a crazy idea,” said Chandler, 32. “But I would like the political ads to actually say what they actually believe in.”
They said they were looking forward to watching the presidential debates before making up their minds.