If you want to begin to understand the disconnect between Washington DC politicians and Main Street America, look no further than Walmart Moms. (That’s women who have kids at home under the age of 18 and who have shopped at Walmart over the past month.)
Walmart Moms are on the front-lines of the economy and comprise 10%-15% of the electorate – a significant chunk of voters. More importantly though, they tend to be swing voters – supporting Barack Obama in 2008 over John McCain, siding with Republican Congressional candidates in the 2010 election, and once again backing Obama over Mitt Romney in 2012.
What you might not know about Walmart Moms:
- They are younger – fully 70% are between the ages of 25 and 44.
- They are well-educated. Nearly half have a college degree.
- They are middle-income, with household income levels even with the national average.
- They are evenly divided in partisanship – about one-third Republican, one-third Democrat and one-third Independent.
Along with Margie Omero, a Democratic pollster (Purple Strategies), POS Partner Nicole McCleskey and I recently conducted focus groups with Walmart Moms in suburban Philly and Kansas City on the day after President Obama’s State of the Union Address. The results were enlightening and sobering:
- Walmart Moms are adjusting to a “new normal” – coping with an economy that seems to be dragging along. These women are upbeat but somber, focused on their daily challenges, and “persevering” – making it through another day trying to make ends meet, balancing the needs of their family with their limited financial resources.
- Walmart Moms view issues through the needs of their families, especially their kids. For these women, getting things right means making life better for their kids – that means they will go to any length to shield their kids from the financial difficulties, disappointment and misfortune the families face.
- Washington politicians are on a different planet. These moms don’t believe that Washington politicians can relate to what’s happening to “people in the real world with real jobs.” They simply cannot imagine Washington politicians can understand families’ daily struggles.
- If the economy is getting better, they haven’t seen it. The Walmart Moms are suffering from “job promise fatigue” – while they’ve heard all the promises before, they have no confidence that the economy is improving because they are not seeing it first-hand in their own communities.
- President Obama’s pre-school initiative is a big winner – Walmart Moms believe that getting a good start in life is critical and are strong supporters of early childhood education. Questions abound regarding the logistics of how it would work, but there is strong support for the goal.
- Walmart Moms aren’t of one mind on the issue of guns. There is a consensus that “something” needs to be done, but no agreement as to what that should be. The debate among these women ranged from mental health issues to banning assault weapons to limiting violent video games.
- There was no consensus on the minimum wage, either. While this issue at first sounded attractive to Walmart Moms, it also raised concerns about rising prices and job loss, both issues of prime importance to these women.
- Despite disillusionment with Washington and general disinterest in the State of the Union address, few Walmart Moms express animosity specifically directed toward President Obama or Republicans in Congress. They are frustrated with the lack of progress coming from Washington politicians but remain hopeful that things can turn around.
Walmart moms – a key voter constituency on the frontline of the economy, focused on family, education, their personal economy and their children’s welfare. There’s no talk from these women about the sequester, the federal deficit, climate change, Simpson-Bowles or tax reform.
These women feel the distance between their daily lives and those of Washington Politicians is growing day-by-day, and there is a growing sense that Washington is doing little of relevance to help these Walmart Moms persevere.