Walmart Moms' Reactions to State of the Union
On behalf of Walmart, Public Opinion Strategies and Momentum Analysis conducted two focus groups of Walmart Moms following the State of the Union address. (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 Philadelphia, PA on
February 13, 2013.
Moms say their lives are busy, but going well.
When asked initially how they would describe their lives, many moms use positive words. "Great," said one, and "well. Very well," said another. Moms noted they had happy, healthy kids, a new outlook on the year, and jobs that allowed them to "get by."
Many moms spoke of a life that was "non-stop," "chaotic," and most of all "busy." For most, this meant rushing to kids' sports matches, taking care of other family members, balancing work and home life. One said she figured she'd miss that chaos when her kids left home. Another said she enjoyed the busy schedule, but also enjoyed the "slower pace" since she quit work to become a stay at home mother.
But at the same time, many moms are struggling. It's real life "Survivor" on the front lines of the economy.
One of the dominant themes of the day is "perseverance" — the ode to get through another day in the face of significant pressures, both economic and emotional. Several moms in each group noted a husband, parent, or they themselves suffered from a recent layoff. For one family, it even meant walking away from their mortgage and moving into a smaller rental. With strained financial circumstances, it is often a delicate balancing act, teetering on the brink of financial disaster where everything matters – a ten cent increase in the cost of gas, a dollar more for milk at the grocery store, and yes, the lost money with the increase in the Social Security tax. For many moms, "fun" is redefined, as luxuries like dinners out or vacations have been stripped from the monthly budget they closely monitor.
Yet, they maintain a positive, hopeful attitude. Blessed by their families and a mother's optimism, these women hope for a better day.
Walmart moms feel a total disconnect with Washington leaders.
These moms believe their Washington leaders are in a different financial league, and they can't relate to what's happening to "people in the real world with real jobs."
They cannot imagine Washington politicians "in a higher bracket" can understand families' daily struggles. Moms imagined politicians with "designer suits" and fancy vacations. Even the best intentioned politicians lose perspective when they go to Washington and are forced to "play the game." Other moms said elected officials inevitably become "sneaks and liars" or have "babies on the side."
Getting things right means making life better for their kids.
Moms worry about what life looks like for their children. Will they be able to afford the cost of college? Can they pay for braces? A daughter's dress for a special dance? A Happy Meal? Will they be able to provide for their kids, or will their kids have to shoulder some of the family burden for difficult economic times. Bottom line: they will do anything to make sure their kids don't have to suffer the consequences, and they desperately want to shield them from disappointment and misfortune.
A "new normal" seems to have settled in, and it is not particularly positive.
There is a real sense that these moms have adapted to a new reality that involves daily struggle and disappointment. They are making the most of it as the difficult economy lingers. Stretching their dollars, cutting coupons, limited social outings are a way of life. In the new normal, a trip to the lake is the definition of a luxury vacation.
Some had not seen or read anything about the speech prior to arriving at the group discussions. No one saw or heard about the Marco Rubio response.
Selections of the State of the Union were shown to participants in the groups, with a focus on the President's remarks on jobs, pre-school, and gun control. Additional discussions focused on raising the minimum wage, illegal immigration, and climate change.
They don't agree that the country is getting stronger.
They see a new way of life emerging – the new normal – but that does not mean the country is getting stronger. They face too many struggles just trying to make ends meet to say things are getting measurably better. And, the speech did little to change the fundamental opinions of Walmart moms.
They are suffering from "job promise fatigue."
They've heard it all before, and hearing it again in the State of the Union did not give them any additional confidence that it will actually happen this time. They cling to hope, but have no real confidence that the economy is improving. Thus, they are skeptical at new job promises. Until they see real jobs created for themselves, their neighbors and in their communities it will be hard for them to believe new promises.
Pre-school is a big winner.
These women struggled themselves to ensure their kids had a good start in life, and they believe it does make a difference. They struggle with some of the logistics of how it would work, but the promise of early childhood education is universally shared.
The answer on guns is less clear, but they believe something needs
to be done.
President Obama offers an approach, but not all are convinced it's necessarily the right or only one. They point to mental health issues or other underlying causes contributing to gun violence. They want to have the dialogue, they want some solutions even if they disagree on the specifics. Some want to see a ban on assault weapons, while others believe the solution rests with more focus on the family or limiting violent video games. But across the board, these moms take a reasoned, rational approach to the problem without the heated rhetoric.
There are two sides to the minimum wage coin.
On one side, it sounds promising for low income earners. But on the flip side, they fear a range of adverse effects including lost jobs and higher product costs, neither of which they can afford. And most acknowledged that a $9 hourly wage is not enough for anyone to live on, especially not with children.
Climate change is a luxury item when times are tough.
It was certainly a lower tier priority for these women who find other issues more pressing.
Despite disillusionment with Washington and disinterest in the State of the Union, few expressed animosity specifically directed toward Obama or Republicans in Congress.
Few moms voiced real anger toward either the President or Republicans in Congress. Some volunteered the President has good intentions; others noted they didn't vote for him. But as we have seen in our past Walmart Mom research, few moms talk about the political climate using incendiary language typical in a heated campaign. They recognize politicians have "hard jobs" bringing it all together to find solutions.
And these women are hopeful that Obama and Congress can work together to solve the nation's challenges.
When asked to rate how hopeful they were that the President and Republicans could work together, a surprising number were more hopeful than not. They believe things have to get better, and say it is better to be optimistic than not. That said, there is ample evidence that we are on a difficult road. They are disappointed when Vice President Biden laughs at the President's remark about his jobs agenda being only half-passed; they wonder if it's a sign that DC politicians really don't take problems facing real Americans seriously. At the same time, they also grow frustrated watching Speaker Boehner and Republicans sitting expressionless; it may be an indication of their dislike for the President and unwillingness to work with him. Beyond the ritual of the State of the Union, Walmart moms say our nation's troubles are too urgent for Washington to not take action.