Undecided Moms Say Clinton Will Win by Default
Donald Trump, with his unfiltered rhetoric and lack of political experience, may be ushering Hillary Clinton into the White House, according to self-described swing-voter moms, who are more resigned than enthusiastic about that prospect.
Participants in two small discussion groups of up-for-grabs female voters in Phoenix and Columbus, Ohio, described their presidential choice as the “lesser of two evils” Tuesday evening as Democratic and Republican pollsters and journalists listened in.
In both cities, moderators asked the women a series of questions, including “How can Trump win?”
“If something happens and Hillary Clinton is indicted,” replied Joanna, a 30-year-old mother of four from Phoenix, who said she’s a homemaker and undecided about the presidential contest.
Like nine others in her focus group of 10, Joanna predicted Trump would lose to Clinton this fall. Their predictions aligned precisely with 10 mothers gathered separately in Columbus.
“I think Donald Trump is going to say something that’s going to scare everyone,” predicted Gidget, a married mother of two and customer service manager from Columbus, who nonetheless said she’s leaning toward voting for the New York businessman. “They’ll think, ‘Whoa, he’s off the chain.’”
“He’s a jerk,” said Ruth, a client service specialist from Columbus, describing Trump. “That’s just who he is,” she added, pointing to his TV persona when he starred in the reality series “The Apprentice.”
The women, all mothers who shop regularly at Wal-Mart, were paid to participate and screened as likely voters. They described an election climate many said they found unsettling, in which “racism” and differences of opinion splintered the discourse among relatives in otherwise close families, between spouses, and created frictions between offspring and parents.
Facebook and social media during this election cycle amplified political divisions, the women observed, along with coverage of the race by major media outlets they faulted as biased and addicted to conflict.
“I’ve already gotten tired of hearing about it, and we’ve got months to go,” said Anita, a divorced health analyst and mother of one child in Columbus.
“I had to stay off social media for a week,” said Stephanie, a Trump-leaning undecided customer service representative and saleswoman from Phoenix. “It’s just too much.”
Ohio and Arizona are among nine states on the RealClearPolitics Electoral College map considered toss-ups. Based on the latest polling, the RCP map shows Clinton leading Trump, 256-154, in the candidates’ pursuit of 270 Electoral College votes needed to win.
“Wal-Mart Moms” is a label applied by some political analysts since 2008 to a key subgroup of not-especially-partisan female voters. They’re described as young-to-middle-aged mothers (18 to 44 years old), mostly white, and registered with both major political parties. They make up an estimated 14 percent to 17 percent of the electorate.
The demographic is considered important because of the sway that “persuadable” moms wielded in 2008 and 2012, when they backed Barack Obama for president, but supported congressional Republicans in 2010, when the GOP took control of the House of Representatives. In this presidential cycle, Republican polling firm Public Opinion Strategies and nonpartisan polling firm Purple Strategies teamed up to continue the focus group conversations for sponsor Wal-Mart.
The enthusiasm for Clinton among the women gathered together Tuesday was muted, evidenced by repeated descriptions of the former secretary of state as “cold,” a “liar,” and “untrustworthy.”
“I don’t know what she can do,” said Dana, a single, 29-year-old African-American mother of two from Columbus. “I know she can lie.”
Linda, 56, a widowed African-American business owner from Phoenix, gave this advice to Clinton on her email troubles: “Don’t just sweep it under the carpet, because there’s so much stuff under there, you can’t even lay the carpet down flat now.” The Arizona group burst into laughter.
Focus group participants said Clinton’s vulnerabilities included events dating to the 1990s, when she was first lady, as well as the current revelations about her personal email server while serving as secretary of state. A number of the women described Clinton as a typical politician who has trouble “owning her mistakes,” who “says what people want to hear.”
Clinton, the first woman to win the presidential nomination of a major political party, was also described as experienced, diplomatic, educated, an accomplished speaker, powerful, and “more presidential” than Trump.
The women who indicated they are leaning toward supporting Trump said they appreciated his ability to say what many Americans are thinking when it comes to the country’s problems, even when they conceded his rhetoric has repeatedly proven distracting, offensive, or both.
“I think Trump understands where the American people are coming from better [than Clinton],” said Amy, a Phoenix massage therapist who described herself as “a Christian woman.”
But in the dog days of August, the focus groups largely agreed they felt dispirited about the presidential race. They described themselves as economically better off than they were four years ago, but clearly were not steeped in distinctions between Trump and Clinton when it comes to most major economic policies. A number of the women in the two cities said they might watch some or all of the presidential debates (the first of three is scheduled Sept. 26).
The 2016 election may be a vote in opposition to one or the other presidential nominee, many of the women suggested, rather than a vote for an inspiring choice. One woman predicted a single term would be all either candidate would get from voters.
At least half the Columbus group weighed the option of voting for a third party candidate, particularly the Libertarian ticket represented by former Gov. Gary Johnson of New Mexico, and his running mate, former Massachusetts Gov. William Weld, as a fallback.
“There’s a sense that people are looking for something else,” said Public Opinion Strategies pollster Neil Newhouse as the Ohio women wrapped up their conversation.