Walmart Moms: Politically Swing, Economically Anxious

This week my firm, along with Republican pollsters Neil Newhouse & Alex Bratty from Public Opinion Strategies, released a survey of women overall, and Walmart moms. The survey, commissioned by Walmart, was conducted online May 20-27 using the EMIl online panel. We surveyed 1250 women, and 380 Walmart moms, defined as women with children under 18, who have also shopped at the store in the last month. (The full presentation, along with more methodological info, can be found here. Some coverage of the results can be found here and here.)

Both motherhood itself and the unique economic pressures mothers face are also at work in these results. Of the women we surveyed, 35% were moms, and 86% of those moms shop at Walmart at least once a month. Below are some key findings about these Walmart moms:

They are younger than women overall, but with similar incomes and education. These women are younger, naturally, because they have young children. And they are less white (67%) than women overall (75%). But they are very similar along economic and educational lines.

They are true swing voters--they support Obama and an involved government, but lean Republican in the Congressional ballot. Like women overall, they lean Democratic (+4 Dem advantage), they voted for Obama (+7), and they are currently favorable toward Obama (+6). However, unlike women overall, they lean slightly toward voting Republican in the upcoming Congressional election (-3). These advantages are small--this group could go either way in November.

They see an active role for government. Six in ten (60%) agree with the statement "government should do more to solve problems and help meet the needs of people." While they oppose the recent health care reform (-14), it's unlikely to be a vote driver this November when compared to the economy. Two-thirds (63%) say the economy and jobs are their first or second priority, compared to just a third (35%) for health care. In fact, Walmart moms who support health care reform are actually more interested in health care as an issue (40%) than are Walmart moms who oppose health care (31%).

They are middle of the road on social issues, although they support gay rights more than the Tea Party. Nearly half of Walmart moms are moderates (46%). As such, they are in the middle of the road on social issues. They are more likely to support "the Gay Rights movement" (51%) than the "Tea Party movement" (46%). They are also nearly evenly divided on whether they support "conservative religious groups" (51%).

These moms are also feeling a real personal squeeze across the board. To be sure, given that large numbers of the moms surveyed also shop at Walmart, motherhood itself seems to covary with both more swing political views and personal economic pressures. In this recent Gallup poll (and in the slightly older studies in this Pew report), mothers report more stress, less time, and less rest than fathers. Our findings below about personal economic insecurity and household task division are consistent with this.

While these moms may be similar to women we surveyed in income and education, yet they feel economic pressures more acutely. Unlike women overall, they are both affected by the current economic downturn, and dissatisfied with their personal economic situation. They are also more likely to identify as working class (or lower), and are more likely to feel anxious about slipping out of that class. In fact, middle- or upper-class Walmart moms are even more likely to feel that anxiety, a pattern not found among women overall. In this swing group, anxiety extends across social strata.

We dug a little deeper to examine what specifically were women's top economic concerns. Daily expenses top the list for these moms, with three-fourths rating them an 8,9, or 10 on a 0-10 scale. But concerns about the future also loomed large, with majorities concerned about their retirement or future job loss. Nearly half expressed strong concern about their credit card debt, and a third say they use their credit cards to get by during this crisis. Taking all concerns together, about half (47%) of Walmart moms rated most of these items as top concerns, compared to only a third of women overall. And candidates should take note that those Walmart moms with more interest in the election are even more likely to have multiple strong concerns. 

Economic challenges beget personal and family challenges. This economic insecurity leads to personal and household strain. Over four in ten Walmart moms (42%) said the economic crisis has put strain on their relationship with their spouse or partner, and younger women even more so. It's not surprising given how many cost-cutting actions these women are taking. When read a list of activities one might do to deal with the economic crisis, two-thirds of Walmart moms (66%) said they had done most or all of them. A majority even said they have put off getting health care. 

Along with these daily economic challenges, Walmart moms feel even more of a burden when it comes to household tasks. Nearly four in ten Walmart moms say they alone are responsible for nearly every item from a series of tasks like "doing laundry" or "cooking at home." Even married Walmart moms were more likely to do most of these tasks (31%) than married women overall (26%). 

Swing moms view the political climate through a personal, economic lens.

What we began to do in this survey is something we don't see much of--an exploration of both women's personal and family concerns along with their political views. Personal financial insecurity, broader economic concerns, and swing political views are all related. In order to better talk to women, swing moms, Walmart moms, or however we define them, it's crucial to understand the link between the personal and the political. Other advice includes the following:

  • Acknowledge the continued tough economic climate, and that more work needs to be done.
  • Personalize a candidate's own narrative and personal journey, to demonstrate relatability, and an understanding of hard times and sacrifices.
  • Remember this group is likely not following the daily squabbles of Washington, as they are preoccupied with concerns about daily expenses and family life.
  • Focus more on the economy and jobs, less on divisive social issues.
  • Put policy positions in the context of how they would affect women and families. Something I've written about here, and elsewhere.