Forget Seamus, the Ryan budget or even the "War on Women." Undecided female voters didn't even mention some of the 2012 cycle's most-hyped news topics in a pair of focus groups on Wednesday evening.
Walmart sponsored the 90-minute focus groups, which were organized by a bipartisan team of pollsters: Margie Omero of Momentum Analysis and Alex Bratty of Public Opinion Strategies. Moderators questioned two groups of "Walmart Moms" — self-described undecided voters who shop at the store at least one a month — in Richmond, Va., and Las Vegas.
It's a surprisingly rare opportunity for inside-the-Beltway reporters to hear out undecided female voters at length. Even on the campaign trail, interviews often last a few minutes with the most quotable participants. Nonetheless, these women are exactly the fought-over voters for whom campaigns clamor in the final weeks of an election.
Here are a few takeaways from the questioning session:
1. Don't underestimate the power of the first family's image with female voters. More women discussed the first daughters more than some of President Barack Obama's most pronounced policy initiatives aimed at female voters (no mention of Sandra Fluke, the Violence Against Women Act, even the administration's contraception coverage policy). A young Richmond mother of one simply said, "Michelle is hearing what we have to say." Another Richmond mom even remarked she believed the president watched out for her because he's "surrounded by women" at home.
2. The females in the focus groups were surprisingly risk averse — to the point it evoked thoughts of FDR's 1944 re-election slogan "Don't swap horses midstream." More than one Richmond participant cited "maybe three years isn't enough" to turn things around. Another particpant warned of a "learning period" if former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney (R) is elected. And a Las Vegas mom argued of Obama, "He's already in place." On the other hand, hardly a hand was raised when the Las Vegas women were questioned if they were better off economically than they were three years ago. These voters were generally disappointed in Obama, but they weren't ready to make the switch yet.
3. Romney remains largely undefined among these two groups. Millions of dollars later on the Nevada and Virginia airwaves, most of these women only knew a couple of things about the presumptive GOP nominee: He's a businessman, family man and, per one Richmond participant, "a nice looking man." It's also worth noting that ads casting Romney's former private equity firm, Bain Capital, in a negative light did ring a bell with a few women. As one Richmond woman described it, "Romney cut jobs when he was in charge of a factory."