Walmart Moms Focus Group (October 2013)
On behalf of Walmart, Public Opinion Strategies and Purple Strategies conducted two focus groups of Walmart Moms. (Walmart Moms are defined as voters with children age 18 or younger at home and who shopped at Walmart at least once in the past month.)
The groups were conducted in Kansas City, MO and Nashville, TN on October 16, 2013. The Kansas City, MO group included the same Walmart Moms from our previous focus group on February 13, 2013. For more on our past research among Walmart Moms, please visit walmartmomsresearch.com.
There is somewhat more optimism among Walmart Moms,
despite their struggles.
Walmart Moms have been facing tough challenges — divorce, job loss, foreclosures, illness, miscarriage, and death are all mentioned. Others point to the "economic drop" that is bringing down their families and communities. Yet these Walmart Moms seem to be resilient, focused on protecting their families from the economic downturn, and maintaining personally positive attitudes.
Despite the challenges Walmart Moms have faced in recent years, they feel more optimistic because their situations are relatively better than they have been. "I haven't missed a meal," one mom says, "And neither have my kids." They try to "stay strong and positive" for their children.
In Kansas City, we spoke to the same moms we included in our Feb 13 group, and their previous pessimism seemed to have been tempered a bit, as for some their personal circumstances had changed — a new job, a promotion for their husband, or the purchase of a new home.
However, Walmart Moms are lacking a sense of "security" in life.
These Walmart Moms may be a bit more upbeat, but there is anxiety – a sense that they are one accident away from economic devastation. Many are still trying to dig out of the financial struggles of the last few years, and while they may have their heads above water now and remain positive, they are still treading water. They plan on using the $100 they receive from participating in the group to buy necessities like gas or groceries, or tuck away for the Christmas season "to make my husband and kids happy."
Others worry about growing income inequality and that they may be left behind. Said one, "restaurants may be packed, and new developments may be being built, but the gap just keeps widening. I hope I'm not on the wrong side of that gap." This seems to come from a view among these women that whatever recovery is taking place is uneven – not everyone seems to be benefitting.
Moms bring spending down to "Ground Zero" to adapt to the "new normal."
For many moms, stability has come with a price: cutting one's expenses way back to "Ground Zero." Cutting out after-school activities, cutting back on cable TV and dinners-out, are all part of family survival. This is adaptation to the "new normal" that allows moms to cope with the volatility and anxiety they feel. What they considered "necessities" a few years ago are now luxuries they can no longer afford.
The American Dream means security: education, retirement, health,
Moms describe the American Dream with words like "happiness," "comfort," "prosperity," "security," "contentment," and "healthy family." Some talk about living long enough to meet their grandchildren. Others hope to be able to retire in the country and travel. Having the financial security to "do what you like," is a key component of these moms' American Dreams.
But, many strive to "get back to" or "reach" their dreams.
Hope is essential to regaining their footing for these moms. Several make the case that compared to most people in the world, they are already living the American Dream because we have what we need. However, others emphasize that they "hope they will get there," "have to hope things will get better," and "have to find the positive." One mom who faced three weeks of homelessness after divorce and foreclosure says, "I had (the American Dream) once upon a time, and I'm hoping to get back to it."
Amidst the turmoil in Washington, they cling to dreams of a better future, even as they express concerns about ever actually getting there.
Walmart Moms are disgusted by politicians and the state of
Not surprisingly, these Walmart Moms save their harshest words for the politicians in Washington, and described what's going on there as "disgusting," "scary," and "out of control." Asked if this is a "bump in the road," one mom calls the situation "a sinkhole…we can throw dirt in to fill it but it will never be level again."
For Walmart Moms, Congress doesn't feel like they are fighting over something that is that meaningful and it's a power struggle more than anything else. Their actions and behavior demonstrate their disregard for the people they serve and the disconnectedness from the lives of people like themselves. Walmart Moms are frustrated and angry that politicians have let us get to this point and fear the situation has caused permanent damage and mistrust that will forever affect how we view government.
Moms use the language of parenthood to frame their views of Congress.
In Nashville, moms called Congress "Kindergarteners," and in Kansas City they called them "toddlers." Either way, the message was clear – Washington is behaving childishly. And just like at home, it frequently takes a mom to make decisions and prioritize. Others pointed to the reading of "Green Eggs & Ham" as another sign of Washington's childishness. And still others say Congress was acting like "parents who fight in front of their children" in that it causes anxiety.
Moms say Washington simply doesn't get it.
Walmart Moms want to see Washington simply "do their job." The moms point to a different set of standards and consequences for Members of Congress, "they work half-days, they go out to eat, they go on vacation. We don't get to do that." And when asked if Congress cares about them, the room fell silent. "I don't think they care about me, but they care about my vote," one mom offered.
Walmart moms' advice to Washington is to live in their shoes and maybe then Congress would understand their struggles:
"Go talk to the people you affect!"
"See how normal people are living"
"They're isolated – living in ivory towers."
Both sides share the blame – there is enough to go around.
Few moms point to a specific person or group to shoulder the blame for the shutdown. All of Washington has been ruined by ego, money, greed, and power, with few thinking about how to help the people they represent. Although a handful mentioned Boehner, Cruz, or Reid, specific knowledge of the back-and-forth of the shutdown seemed sparse.
A couple of moms placed the blame on Republicans for putting politics and their egos before the interests of the country. One mom said, "Republicans are pitching a hissy fit, if we don't get what we want, we'll shut down the whole government."
Several others, however, say President Obama was supposed to bring people together yet he blames Republicans publicly. That's not what they expected of him. They argue that President Obama did not unify the country, instead he caused more division.
Ultimately, though, moms say there "should be no winners and losers." Especially when the only ones who suffer are the American people. "They are all losers," one says, pointing the finger at all of Congress.
Most moms are fearful we'll never get America back on track.
Walmart Moms say this shutdown reveals an "irreparable great divide." Others blame Washington for making people "angrier," and there's a clear sense that the government has "broken its trust" with the American people. Still other moms talk about their embarrassment about what's going on in Washington, and say that it has made them "lose enthusiasm for being an American."
These women want to be optimistic about the future of the country, but they just can't bring themselves to believe that things are going to get better. They are resigned that dysfunctional government may be the new standard.
The lack of faith in Washington has encouraged moms to take things into their own hands.
While these Walmart Moms say they want their elected leaders in Washington to "do something" and "to get something done," they are not optimistic that anything will change. They have more faith in themselves and other Americans than they do in their government. They also generally believe that the country will continue to be in a state of decline unless government officials work together to figure out a way to solve some of our problems.
Instead of giving up or dropping out of the system, most moms express resolve to take action – supporting each other when government fails to help, educating themselves to make better voting choices, participating in local elections and primaries, getting involved in their communities. They are less likely to support a particular political party, are willing to "throw them all out," and are looking for candidates — especially women — who can lead with logic, common sense and compassion rather than ego.