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Insulting the Wal-Mart Voters: Always Bad Politics. Always.

By Ryan Sager

Back in June, I wrote about a new species of "it" voter. We've had soccer moms, security moms, NASCAR dads, etc. etc. etc. Now, pollster John Zogby is hyping "Wal-Mart voters." Weekly Wal-Mart shoppers make up about one-fifth of the U.S. population, and Zogby found that 85 percent of them voted for George W. Bush in 2004; conversely, 88 percent of folks who never shop at Wal-Mart voted for John Kerry.

The point of my earlier column was that Wal-Mart voters suddenly seem up for grabs in this year's midterm elections. In the depth of Bush's unpopularity this summer, they were giving him a 35 percent approval rating -- compared to 45 percent from born-again Christians, 49 percent from NASCAR fans, and 54 from self-identified conservatives.

So, how have the Democrats chosen to capitalize on this political opportunity? By launching an all-out attack on America's most successful company: Wal-Mart.

Earlier this month, Sen. Joe Biden -- who dreams of running for president when he isn't gagging on his own ankle -- ranted to a crowd in Iowa for 15 minutes about the company's wages and health plans, according to the New York Times. "My problem with Wal-Mart is that I don't see any indication that they care about the fate of middle-class people," Biden said. "They talk about paying them $10 an hour. That's true. How can you live a middle-class life on that?"

Meanwhile, in the nasty Democratic primary in Connecticut, the only thing Sen. Joe Lieberman and netroots challenger Ned Lamont could agree on was that they both hated Wal-Mart. Hillary Clinton (who used to be on Wal-Mart's board when she lived in Arkansas, the company's home state) returned $5,000 in campaign contributions from the retailer last year, citing its health-care practices. And Sen. Evan Bayh of Indiana, a former head of the centrist Democratic Leadership Council, told the New York Times earlier this month that, "Wal-Mart has become emblematic of the anxiety around the country, and the middle-class squeeze."

Well, it's also emblematic of something else: 1.3 million workers around the country who draw a paycheck from this supposed enemy of the middle class and hundreds of millions of loyal shoppers.

While the Democrats seem quite sure they've captured lighting in a bottle with this anti-Wal-Mart crusade, they might take a look at their recent record of political astuteness and try to sort out the wants of their labor-union base and the needs of average American swing voters.

In particular, a new poll out from the Pew Research Center might give Democrats more than a moment of pause. Despite a relentless anti-Wal-Mart campaign over the last few years -- funded by unions that haven't been able to organize Wal-Mart and that want to keep it from growing its grocery business -- Americans still have very positive views of Wal-Mart. And not just Americans generally, but Democrats specifically.

While the farthest reaches of the Left have bought into the anti-Wal-Mart campaign (53 percent of liberal Democrats hold an unfavorable view of the company), moderate Democrats and independents have not been swayed (by a margin of two-to-one, they think the company has a good effect on the country). Republicans, meanwhile, are virtually uniform in their admiration for the store (73 percent of liberal Republicans hold a favorable view of the company; 72 percent of conservative Republicans do).

What's more, not only do Americans generally like Wal-Mart, they also consider it a good place to work. Only 34 percent of Americans identified Wal-Mart as a "bad" place to work, and they were, again, primarily liberal Democrats.

What seems to be going on here is that, as usual, a fairly massive cultural divide between the leadership of the Democratic Party and the heart of middle America has led the anti-capitalism party astray. Liberals, city-dwellers, and the better-off are all less likely to have shopped at Wal-Mart than those who are lower-middle-class, live in rural areas (especially the South), or are socially conservative.

Rich, guilt-ridden liberals see Wal-Mart, and they see injustice. Then they see union members opposed to Wal-Mart as well, and they figure that this means most of America must be ready to run Wal-Mart CEO Lee Scott out of town on a rail.

The truth is, the people in the middle, working Americans (most of them, by far, non-unionized) see Wal-Mart for what it is: a place to get stuff for cheap, to keep the family budget in balance.

To try to distract from this central truth -- to inadvertently suggest, even, that Wal-Mart shoppers are acting selfishly by abetting this evil corporation -- might fire up a few union activists who were voting Democratic anyway. But it's unlikely to win back the Wal-Mart voters.

Ryan Sager (rhsager.com) is author of “The Elephant in the Room: Evangelicals, Libertarians, and the Battle to Control the Republican Party.”

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