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Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Walmart Moms: Obama Won Debate But No ‘Wow’ Moment

A mother shops for movies at a Walmart Supercenter in Rosemead, Calif. (AP/Ric Francis)

In bipartisan research funded by Walmart, a group of 20 undecided “Walmart moms” from Florida watched last night’s final presidential debate with dialmeters in hand providing instant reaction to what the candidates were saying.

The two pollsters conducting the focus group, one a Republican and the other a Democrat, found that the moms scored the debate “almost a tie” but gave the slight edge to President Barack Obama, who they saw as more confident.

Several moms also said they were looking for a “wow” moment to help them decide which candidate to vote for and they didn’t find one. They mirror the view from some analysts this morning.

Mike Allen of Politico wrote that “President Obama won last night’s foreign-policy debate on substance, in snap polls and with the pundits, but Mitt Romney did well enough that for the first time in six years, Romney folks emailed, ‘We’re going to win.'”

PBS NewsHour political editor Christina Bellatoni told Here & Now’s Robin Young that the campaigns took the unusual step of “doing spin” on each answer – something she suggests means they thought “it was a little bit more of a draw than some of the other debates.”

Research findings provided by Public Opinion Strategies and Momentum Analysis: 

Walmart Moms’ Reactions To The 3rd Presidential Debate

Key findings from dial and discussion groups among Walmart Moms in Orlando

On behalf of Walmart, Public Opinion Strategies and Momentum Analysis conducted a dial session of 20 Walmart Moms during the third presidential debate and two break-out discussion groups following the debate. (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 dial session and discussion groups were conducted in Orlando, FL on October 22, 2012.


  • Walmart Moms scored this debate as almost a tie in post-debate ratings, but in the discussion groups that followed, most women gave the edge to President Obama tonight. Most women say they saw a more confident Obama this evening who had more experience than Mitt Romney on the issues discussed (although they acknowledge this is only natural after four years as President).
  • Candidate style and demeanor (rather than policy differences) drove reactions. Indeed, most of the women we spoke with in Orlando this evening noted that President Obama and Governor Romney agreed on more than they expected. So, for those who say the debate made a difference, it was based on the overall impression they got from each candidate – as noted above, most saw Obama as more confident, but some saw strength in Romney’s presence. That said, several women said they were looking for a “wow” moment from either candidate that might help seal their vote decision, yet they found none forthcoming.
  • Foreign policy was a less of a draw for these women; when the debate turned to domestic policies and values, Walmart Moms responded positively. When the candidates discussed foreign policy through a domestic lens, we saw these women respond positively with their dials. This was borne out throughout the debate, when both candidates used language such as other countries “taking responsibility for their future,” or that “they want the same things we want,” or talking about a focus on our own economy.
  • In the breakout groups, Walmart moms also found mentions of gender equality particularly memorable. They appreciated the discussion about education, specifically the concept that our children need to be better educated for the United States to be competitive in the world. Ultimately, while Walmart Moms found the debate interesting and informative, most say domestic issues drive their vote. They said that while foreign policy is very important, and they want their children to be safe, the economy and education trump it as they assess their voting priorities this year.
  • Less bickering/arguing appealed to these moms. Walmart moms noticed this debate had fewer angry exchanges, either between the candidates themselves or with the moderator than that of the Town Hall debate last week. While some felt Obama successfully and clearly challenged Romney at times, few moms felt the candidates were too confrontational. And, several said they preferred this tone of conduct.
  • Some moms say they could change their minds again before November. Even though there have been three debates, some moms said they could still change their minds between now and November 6. Despite this evening’s debate being focused on foreign policy, moms still wanted to hear both candidates’ plans for creating jobs. These moms worried whether they could afford four more years of Obama, but were unsure if Romney had a real plan to help them. When asked where they would go for information, a few said they would check the candidate websites or go online.


Obama High Points

  • Criticizing Romney’s foreign policy strategy.
  • “You have to be clear about where you stand and what you mean…” This led into talking about protecting minorities and promoting gender equality.
  • Syrians have to determine their own future. We will support the opposition.
  • In these countries in turmoil, help them protect civil liberties and the status of women. Says many of them have the same economic concerns for their children and their lives. Want to start rebuilding their economy.
  • Talking about class sizes and how education improves our worldwide competitiveness.
  • Sending troops into war.
  • Have to pull out of Afghanistan responsibly and take care of things at home. Focus on care for veterans when they come home.
  • We need to be tough on China and have them meet basic international standards.

Romney High Points

  • Do not want to get dragged into military involvement in Syria and want to make sure they we make friends with the people who do come into power.
  • Want the young people in these countries to know peace and know they have a bright future.
  • We need to have a strong economy and military, and sequestration is a bad idea. Need to strengthen military and economy long term in order to confront future challenges we can’t even predict.
  • Providing his five-point jobs plan.
  • Likes teachers and supports schools.
  • Talking about Iran and how we should tighten sanctions and shun their diplomats.
  • A nuclear Iran is not acceptable to us.


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Robin and Jeremy

Robin Young and Jeremy Hobson host Here & Now, a live two-hour production of NPR and WBUR Boston.

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