Margie Omero teamed up with Public Opinion Strategies to figure out who exactly are “Wal-Mart Moms” and where they fall on the political spectrum.
C&E: Let’s start by talking about the “Wal- Mart Moms” poll. How did it come about? Have you worked with Wal-Mart in the past? What did Wal-Mart hope to accomplish?
Omero: Initially, it came about because “Wal-Mart Moms” was in the political nomenclature. Neil Newhouse [of Public Opinion Strategies],who we worked with on this project had introduced that word; it was something people had been talking about in the last election cycle. Wal-Mart really wanted to further explore that group. What was unique about that survey was we were able to explore the personal and the political. It wasn’t just a political poll, it wasn’t just a lifestyle poll, it really looked at all that together. That is so important when studying women voters.
C&E: How did you define a “Wal-Mart Mom?”
Omero: A mom of children under 18 at home who shopped at Wal-Mart within the last month. C&E: The thing that struck me about the poll was that it was a corporate funded poll that was made public and was overtly political.
Omero: Well, it was certainly, I think, new to Wal-Mart. We weren’t trying to coin this phrase; this phrase was already coined. It was a question of who are these people, and while they were political questions, we weren’t driving a political agenda. What makes it unlike other political surveys is that we weren’t trying to say, “Here’s what this corporation’s interests are. This is why people support them.” It was really about these are our customers, they are a real important part of the electorate, you’ve already started looking at them. We dug a little deeper and we just wanted to find what they are about. We wanted to identify and describe them and then further down the road keep on looking at them and see how they change or not change, how they react to campaign events as we get closer to the election.
C&E: Let’s talk about what results from that poll jumped out to you. I think what’s received the most attention is that you identified these women as real swing voters.
Omero: Certainly the political interest is that they are swing voters. The other piece of it is how much personal economic squeeze they are feeling and a lot of it is because they are moms. But Wal-Mart moms in particular, it’s not just concern about the economy nationally, it is real personal economic struggle. Making sure you can pay groceries, making sure you can pay your mortgage, paying for healthcare—all of those real, day-to-day concerns. Not only that, how many tasks these women are solely responsible for. A third of married Wal-Mart moms did nearly every task that we asked about completely on their own.
C&E: Is that the sort of advice or guidance that can be taken out of the poll for parties and candidates? Maybe that message needs to be more personalized?
Omero: Absolutely. The poll definitely confirmed a lot of what we see in the legislative, congressional and statewide polling that we do for our other candidates. Women, particularly non-Democratic women, can really determine elections. How do you talk to them? And it’s really talking to them about what affects their day-to-day life, not in terms of Washington politics or the back and forth of subcommittees, but really making sure that people feel their elected officials get it and understand what their lives are like. And it’s true with the Wal-Mart moms in nearly every race that we look at. Now, one other thing that I think is worth noting is that 60 percent of Wal-Mart moms said that they wanted to see government have a larger role rather than back off and stay out of the way.
C&E: You conducted the poll entirely online. How reliable are you finding that method?
Omero: I think this is the exact kind of poll you want to use online methodology for. You want reach. It was a national study and you want to reach a particular segment. It turned out that Wal-Mart moms were more likely to use social media, like Facebook, and so on. It was clearly a good way to reach these folks. Yeah, when people talk about online for someone running for county executive, it doesn’t make sense. But for this kind of survey, it really was the perfect methodology.
C&E: The other thing I wanted to ask you about was your working with the guys at Public Opinion Strategies. I think more and more that surveys that are intended to become public, national surveys, are conducted by a Democratic firm teamed up with a Republican firm. Do you think that is something that has to be done for credibility?
Omero: You know, I have to say, it was great to work with them. It was very much a collaborative process. They are a larger firm than me, and so they took the lead on the fieldwork. Neil Newhouse has been in the business for a long time obviously, but it was very much a very collaborative effort between him, Alex Bratty, who worked with him, and me. Our view of the results, maybe were there subtle differences, you would have to spend a lot of time really thinking about it to identify them. C&E: Is this sort of survey, where you try to focus in one subset nationwide, something you see happening more and more in the future?
Omero: Well, definitely people try to come up with these taglines. It’s out of a desire to make some sense of this political landscape and out of swing voters. To find a key voter, that is important so you can be more efficient in your communications, in who you talk to, and you can better understand voters. You don’t want to simply listen to the folks who are the noisiest. Every cycle, people come up with different ones, and some of them don’t really sound swing or some of them are misidentified a little bit in the press.
In this particular case, though, I think we’re talking about swing women, swing moms. While other folks look at marital status, I think parental status has a large impact here that is different than demographic differences. You see demographic differences between married and unmarried women. It’s the demographic differences that explain some of the political differences, but these Wal-Mart moms had the same education and income level as women overall, so it wasn’t a function of that.
C&E: Maybe we could talk a little bit, generally, about new techniques in surveys and polling. What do you think is coming up that will change the way the industry works?
Omero: I think it depends on what the use of the poll is. So, if you are talking about a national survey, there’s all kinds of things, whether it’s the Internet or whether it’s cell phone only, which is only just recently having a little bit of effect. I think there is a distinction between creative methodology and creative messaging; creative methodology is great for reaching younger voters and national studies or institutional work where they have the budget to be sort of the resource and academic-like institution and resource of these kinds of differences. Then you’re talking about candidate work, where these kinds of techniques are not as applicable and those folks, wherever they’re running, whether for city council or US Senate, they want creative messaging. They want messaging that is really unique and specific and custom to them and speaking to voters and speaking to women—not copying what everyone else is saying that day.
We’ve done some nteresting techniques; I think people are doing a lot of this too, in terms of creative qualitative work. We’ve done conference calls and focus groups as opposed to in person; we’ve done bulletin board and online focus groups, which are really useful if you have a donor group that is all over the place. It’s a really good way to get people involved and get their cooperation from wherever. Then we’ve done one-on-one interviews instead of focus groups to test ads.
C&E: How about online ad testing?
Omero: We’ve done online ad testing and that’s worked well, depending on the electorate. We did it in an area where they had a very highly engaged electorate and it was a primary, so it was good. It was just to get a very good gut check, not to get very detailed or in depth.
C&E: One pollster was telling me he thinks that because it is the most scientific, the polling industry evolves more rapidly than others.
Omero: We have to adapt quickly, but I think everybody else has to adapt quickly also. You have to do more mail in order to get more people to pay attention; you have to use more sophisticated buying techniques because people are watching shows all over the spectrum, and cable penetration is so high it becomes almost like broadcast in a lot of markets. You know online and IVR polling has moved dramatically in the last five years and you know voter files are far better than when I started in the business.
Margie Omero is the president of Momentum Analysis, a Democratic polling shop. Her clients have included the DNC, DCCC and EMILY’s List.