The good news for President Obama after his second encounter with challenger Mitt Romney on the debate stage: It wasn’t a complete rout like the last time around, at least in the eyes of so-called “Walmart moms,” a valuable swing-vote bloc this election cycle.
In a Milwaukee-area focus group of 20 of these women — defined as female voters with children under age 18 who have shopped at the retail chain at least once in the last month — participants felt more favorable toward both candidates at the end of the 90-minute exchange on Tuesday night.
Asked to rate their feelings toward the candidates on a scale of 1 to 100, the Walmart moms gave Obama a score of 64 and Romney a 54 after the debate, an increase of 13 points for the president and seven points for the GOP nominee from their ratings the start of the debate.
Romney and Obama both won converts with their performances: Of the seven undecided voters who participated in the focus group, one Walmart mom went over to Romney’s camp, while two became Obama supporters during the course of Tuesday evening.
The bipartisan polling team from Republican firm Public Opinion Strategies and Democratic firm Momentum Analysis has identified “Walmart moms” as an important voting bloc and one of the few persuadable demographic groups. It has been tracking the group’s political leanings since 2010.
In November 2011, the two firms found that these moms made up 27 percent of all registered women voters, representing 14 percent of the electorate. According to their findings, in 2008, the Walmart moms helped Obama seal a decisive victory, while in November 2010, they helped Republicans win control of the House.
Some of the Wisconsin Walmart moms expressed relief that President Obama had brought his "A" game to Tuesday night’s town hall forum.
“He did much better than in his first debate,” said one Walmart mom.
“I was actually comforted,” another woman elaborated. “Obama knows what went wrong, and he kind of knows how to fix it.”
A third noted that Obama showcased his strength during the debate — his likeability.
“Obama’s more genuine and down to earth,” she said.
Others, however, said Romney did a good job of ensuring that Obama was forced to reckon with the promises made in 2008 that had not been actualized.
“Some of the points he was making, I had to compare to the last four years,” one woman said. “We had a lot of hope, but I was left thinking, ‘Hmm, I’m not sure the next four years are going to be much different.’ ”
“He’s got the words, but no plans,” another said of the president.
As for the Republican challenger, the Walmart moms were still left hungering from more specifics about what a Romney administration might look like, although they also said he posted another strong performance.
They did not appreciate either candidate’s attempt to dodge the questions.
“I just feel that neither of them 100 percent answered the question before they started finger-pointing,” one mom said.
“It still leaves me very confused,” another woman lamented. “Mitt Romney didn’t say what he would do, although he did talk about what he had done.”
The women also indicated they still weren’t feeling as if they could relate to the former Massachusetts governor. One woman said he came off as an “elitist.” Another added, “He doesn’t come across as being likeable or relatable.”