The 2016 presidential election is a choice between a dishonest Washington insider and an unqualified hot head, according to a key bloc of women voters clamoring for another option just three months before Election Day.
Focus groups of “Walmart moms” -- women who have at least one child under 18 living at home and who have shopped at Walmart in the past month -- observed by reporters on Tuesday painted an overwhelmingly negative picture of the campaign, with participants calling it a choice between the “lesser of two evils.”
The 20 middle-class mothers gathered in Phoenix, Arizona, and Columbus, Ohio, used terms like “nauseating” and “painful” to describe the choice between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. One woman simply said the choice made her feel “screwed.”
“I feel like no matter which way we choose, we’re going to lose,” said Gidget, a customer service manager in the Columbus group.
The women, mostly in their 30s and 40s, were a mix of undecided voters and those leaning slightly towards supporting one of the major party candidates. In Phoenix, five women said they favored Clinton, two for Trump and three undecided. In Columbus, three said they were for Trump, two for Clinton, and five said they were open to a third-party candidate, despite knowing little about the alternative choices.
However, 19 of the 20 said they believe Clinton will win, with one undecided.
The reason most gave was Trump's mouth.
“I think he’s going to do something between now and November to really shoot himself in the foot,” said Connie, an unemployed mother of two who participated in the Phoenix group.
The focus groups, organized by Democratic firm Penn Schoen Berland and Republican firm Public Opinion Strategies, were meant to gauge the thinking of what has become a coveted voting bloc. “Walmart moms” have supported the winning candidate or party in every election since 2008, except in 2014 when the broke for Democrats in the midterms.
Though a number of the women said they would be open to supporting a third-party candidate, most said they knew little to nothing about Libertarian Gary Johnson. Green Party candidate Jill Stein and newly announced independent candidate Evan McMullin went unmentioned.
A participant in the Phoenix group encouraging others to consider Johnson announced she would be supporting “Johnson-Ward,” referring to the Libertarian ticket including former Massachusetts Gov. Bill Weld. The mistake went unnoticed.
Women in both group’s struggled to come up with positives for Clinton and Trump, often framing their attributes in a negative light. Mentions of Clinton’s years of experience often led to questions about her honesty.
“I think they’re all liars, but she gets caught a lot,” Julie, an undecided voter in Columbus, said. Another said the former secretary of state has swept so much under the rug " they can’t even lay the carpet down flat now."
Trump’s experience in business led to discussions about his lack of experience in politics and, ultimately, his temperament.
“He acts like a 2-year-old. I have a 2-year-old, I see the similarities,” said Deanna, a mother of four in Phoenix.
Just as telling were the Olympic sports the participants paired with the candidates as a moment of levity during what were mostly pessimistic discussions. Four of the women in Phoenix associated Clinton with fencing because, as one participant said: “She would stab you in the back.”
Another said Trump could be a swimmer because he’s “trying to stay afloat.”
These voters said that, at least for now, the negativity has not impacted their views of the competitive Senate races in both Ohio and Arizona. None of the women said that how Republican Sen. Rob Portman, Ohio, or Sen. John McCain, Arizona, handle being on the ticket with Donald Trump would impact their views.
However, GOP pollster Neil Newhouse cautioned that could change closer to Election Day as Democrats put more effort into tying Trump to down ballot Republicans.
“Once Democrats start linking them to everything Donald Trump has ever said or done, that could change,” he said.