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Why Walmart Moms Are Skeptical About Obama's Agenda Why Walmart Moms Are Skeptical About Obama's Agenda

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Politics

Why Walmart Moms Are Skeptical About Obama's Agenda

The key swing bloc of voters has seen politicians make promises before.

The so-called Walmart moms are hopeful Congress and the president can work to together. They're not sure they will, though. (AP photos)

photo of Michael Catalini
February 15, 2013

Sorry, Washington, the Walmart moms aren't buying what you're selling.

At a time when President Obama looks to move his agenda through Congress, one of the crucial demographic groups he carried in 2012--mostly white, working-class women with children at home who shop at least once a month at the big-box retailer--aren't convinced by the rhetoric.

By and large, they say they hold out hope that Congress and the president can work to together on an ambitious agenda that includes helping the economy grow, reforming immigration and gun laws, and increasing the minimum wage that Obama laid out this week at the State of the Union address. But they're skeptical about whether the legislative and executive branches will actually work together.

 

"Every time I think positive, shit happens," said one mom from Philadelphia.

She was one of 10 mothers in Philadelphia from across racial, educational, and political backgrounds who answered about an hour's worth of questions after the State of the Union address earlier this week. Another group of 10 mothers from Kansas City, Mo., answered similar questions after the speech. I was one of a handful of reporters who reviewed recordings of the focus groups, which were organized by Democratic firm Momentum Analysis and Republican firm Public Opinion Strategies. The mothers' full names were not released. Wal-Mart sponsored the studies.

Politically, Walmart moms are interesting because they're a swing-voting group. The term was coined by POS, the Republican firm, in 2008 and refers to mothers who are mostly between the ages of 18-44, mostly white, with two-fifths to half having finished college. Their partisan affiliation tends to be evenly split. As a group, they voted for Obama in 2008, went Republican in 2010, but returned to Obama in 2012. They make up just under a fifth of the voting population.

How they'll vote in 2014 is the subject of speculation and the object of political strategists' planning, and even though as a group they helped Obama win reelection, they are not sold on the president's agenda. (None said they had seen Marco Rubio's GOP response to the State of Union; some said they read about it.)

On Obama's proposals on jobs, the moms were skeptical. Asked for a one-word reaction to his call for Congress to take up the remainder of Obama's American Jobs Act, one Kansas City mother said, "Reality." She wanted to know: "How will they do, it?" Another said "confused." The president said he'll bring jobs in, but it seems as if Americans are having a hard time getting the jobs that are already available now. She advocated more resources.

The mothers in both groups were most engaged on education, sharing strong opinions about the benefits of preschool and debating how many hours a day their kids should attend. They applauded the president's ideas. But they stopped short of endorsement.

"It's a great idea, but is he gonna follow through? I've heard it before," said one of the moms from Philadelphia.

There is similar skepticism about raising the minimum wage. The top worry is that a higher minimum wage could raise consumer prices, such as bread and gas. And, anyway, who can live on $9 an hour? many asked.

On gun control, they agreed that background checks could work to prevent violence, but they were also skeptical about additional gun-control regulations.

"It's not the guns that are killing people; it's the people that are killing people," said one Kansas City mother.

So, if they're skeptical on whether Washington will deliver on its promises, then what makes them hopeful?

"You have to have faith," one mom said.

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