While Washington may be fully engaged in sequestration theater, lots of American moms are too busy with their lives to pay much attention.
Terms like “chained CPI,” “Bowles-Simpson,” and “CR” are getting thrown around Washington with impunity. But, this isn’t the language that moms speak around their kitchen tables. American moms are more worried about filling up their gas tank than the deficit. They are more concerned about the cost of college than the size of the Pentagon budget. Ideological battles over the budget won't pay for braces.
They don’t expect Washington to fix all their problems. But, they also don’t believe that Washington gets their problems.
These were the conclusions gleaned from two focus groups of so-called “Walmart moms” conducted for Walmart by Republican pollster Nicole McCleskey and Democratic pollster Margie Omero.
This bipartisan group of twenty moms from the suburbs Kansas City, Missouri and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania are at once both happy with the quality of their lives, yet still frustrated to still be struggling economically.
The most recent Gallup Confidence score captures this ambivalence as well. According to Gallup, “Americans continue to remain as upbeat about the economy as they have been at any point in the last five years… Still, the public continues to view the economy more negatively than positively as a whole and continues to rank it as the most important problem facing the country.”
In other words, Americans no longer feel like they are drowning, but they still feel as if they are treading water.
I watched the Kansas City group and heard these women describe their lives as a constant balancing act.
Theresa, a 27-year old mom of a toddler and a social worker said the rising cost of gas is a daily struggle. “I drive 40 minutes to work each day. Some days I wonder if it’s even worth it.”
They want the best for their children, but are upset when they can’t provide them much beyond the basics. Courtney, a 34-year old mom of two, told the story of how her son was able to go to a Kansas City Chiefs football game thanks to a free ticket. Even then, however, she had to drop him off across the street “because I couldn’t afford the parking” at the stadium.
None of the women were going to use the $100 they got for participating in the focus group on a splurge for themselves. All said it would go to gas or groceries.
They don’t think that folks in Washington have any idea what their lives are like. One woman noted that members of Congress are in “such a high bracket” that they don’t get what it’s like for people in the “real world, with real jobs.”
They are turned off by the endless parade of politicians who promise to have "the answer" for creating more - and better paying - jobs. Pollsters Omero and McCleskey call it “job promise fatigue.”
“They’ve heard it all before,” they write, “and hearing it again in the State of the Union did not give them any additional confidence that it will actually happen this time... They are skeptical at new job promises. Until they see real jobs created for themselves, their neighbors and in their communities it will be hard for them to believe new promises.”
Remarkably, however, these women are much more optimistic about the ability of Washington to work than those of us who cover it for a living. When asked to rate the likelihood of Congress “working to together” on a scale of one to ten - one being no hope and ten being very hopeful - the women averaged a six. If I took a similar survey among Washington insiders, I suspect the average would be closer to a two.
“If you don’t have hope, what do you have?” said Courtney, who voted for Romney in 2012.
Republican pollster McCleskey explains, “They have adjusted their expectations, but it hasn’t extinguished their hopes.”
You hear that Congress? You listening up there at the White House? These women haven't completely given up on you. They are still willing to give you a shot to get this right. Unlike those of us here in DC, they don’t assume that things like the sequester are inevitable. They aren't looking for a "grand bargain" or even a "medium one." They simply want their elected officials to help make their day-to-day lives just a little bit easier.
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