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Poll: Critique of Wal-Mart is a Political Loser

By Peter Brown

Democratic presidential candidates who attack Wal-Mart due to concerns about the ill effects of globalization, the firm's business practices and its pay for workers are hurting their own election prospects.

That's the message from new polls in Ohio and Florida, the two most important swing states in presidential elections.

Simply put, the poll results raise this question: Why have Democrats chosen to highlight their opposition to the nation's largest employer.

Three-in-four voters say attacks by politicians on Wal-Mart won't affect their voting behavior. But among those who say it will, those people are much more likely to vote against a candidate who skewers Wal-Mart than they are to vote for him.

Quinnipiac University polls of more than 1,000 voters in each of those states last month found that Wal-Mart is viewed very favorably by the electorate, and especially by independent voters who generally decide close elections.

A plurality of voters also believes that Democrats who attack Wal-Mart are doing so to curry favor with organized labor, which is unhappy with the firm because its stores are non-union.

Even self-identified Democrats say their local communities are better off for having a Wal-Mart in their area, although in Ohio, union families are more likely to have mixed feelings about the company.

Many Democratic presidential candidates, including Sens. Hillary Clinton of New York and Barack Obama of Illinois, have not just been critical of the nation's largest retailer, but used it as a campaign prop.

Bashing Wal-Mart has become almost a stock part of their rhetoric, arguing that the company doesn't treat its workers well, and hurts communities because a side effect of offering its low prices is driving down wages.

To determine the effectiveness of that message, the independent Quinnipiac Poll asked voters in Ohio and Florida whether anyone in their household had shopped in a Wal-Mart in the past year.

In Florida, 91 percent answered affirmatively; in Ohio 86 percent.

But not only do these voters shop there, they overwhelmingly see the company as a positive force in their community, and by a solid margin as a good thing for the country. The difference probably reflects a concern about the outsourcing of American jobs, since Wal-Mart imports a large percentage of its goods from overseas.

In Florida, by a 72-16 percent margin, voters think Wal-Mart has a positive rather than negative effect on their area. By a 61-25 percent margin, they feel that way about the firm's affect on the country. In Ohio, by 65-23 percent voters think it has been a positive force in their area, 52-37 percent for the country.

By a ratio of four-to-one, 56-14 percent, Floridians view Wal-Mart favorably. The figures for Florida Democrats aren't much different, 54-15 percent.

Ohioans see the firm favorably 44-24 percent, although in the roughly one in five Ohio households in which there is a union member, Wal-Mart is viewed negatively 40-31 percent. However, those union households believe by a 53-28 percent margin that Wal-Mart has been positive for their area.

In Ohio 77 percent, and in Florida 78 percent, say a candidate's attacks on Wal-Mart would not affect their voting behavior. But among those who say it matters, the view is decidedly negative about such candidates.

In Ohio, twice as many voters, 14 percent, said attacks against Wal-Mart make it less likely they would support such a candidate than the 7 percent who said it made them more likely. Among independents, that margin was 13 percent to 4 percent.

In Florida, 16 percent said they would be less likely to support such a candidate, compared to 4 percent who said they would be more likely to support him. Among independents, it was 18-4 percent.

Of course what a presidential candidate says about Wal-Mart doesn't rank high on voters' list of priorities, but it is interesting that Democrats, and not just those running for president, have decided to declare verbal warfare on the company.

At least on the surface, it does not seem to make political sense.

Peter A. Brown is assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute. He can be reached at peter.brown@quinnipiac.edu

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