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Mon., Oct. 6, 2008

Wal-Mart Mom demographics

Some thoughts to ponder the next time you’re standing behind 10 people in the slowest line at Wal-Mart, grousing you won’t ever shop there again, at least not until you absolutely need to:

• Every week, 137 million Americans file through Wal-Mart, including one of every five women.

• Wal-Mart’s why you can now pay about $5 a pound for salmon, why double-strength liquid laundry detergent has become ubiquitous.

• Wal-Mart shoppers – women, specifically – supposedly are the swing voters who’ll decide the presidential election between Sens. John McCain and Barack Obama.

Pollsters and political reporters, from Time to Business Week to Britain’s The Financial Times, have been analyzing the campaigns’ efforts to woo Wal-Mart Moms, shorthand for middle-age white women, mostly lower income and without college educations. Wal-Mart’s taken its own snapshots of its shoppers, and here are some of the results that corporate communications VP Mona Williams shared at the recent National Conference of Editorial Writers convention in Little Rock:

• People more likely to shop at Wal-Mart in August than six months earlier: 54 percent.

• Women more likely: 57 percent.

• Minorities more likely: 73 percent of blacks, 70 percent of Hispanics.

• Political leanings: 63 percent of Democrats more likely to shop Wal-Mart; 48 percent of independents; 46 percent of Republicans; 48 percent of undecideds.

• Undecided voters who shop at Wal-Mart regularly or occasionally: 71 percent.

Among Wal-Mart Moms, Williams said, 63 percent agreed that “I worry about having enough money to pay for my daily necessities like groceries and rent.” Forty-five percent consider their financial situation the same as six months ago; 35 percent feel worse off and 19 percent better.

A September poll taken in five battleground states (Colorado, Florida, Nevada, Ohio and Virginia) depicts Wal-Mart Women as pragmatic and focused on pocketbook issues, a Sept. 23 company memo says.

Wal-Mart Women work (74 percent), are married (70 percent), attend church regularly (47 percent), have college degrees (34 percent) and call themselves politically moderate (42 percent), according to that survey. Wal-Mart Moms, though, are more often married (86 percent), less likely to work outside the home (68 percent) and lean more conservative (44 call themselves Republicans, 34 percent Democrats.)

The common wisdom says that McCain picked Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin to lure Wal-Mart Moms to his camp.

The hunter, fisher, wife and mother, former small-town mayor, regular gal might even shop at the Wasilla Wal-Mart: she did cut the red ribbon when it became a Supercenter last November, after all.

Democratic VP pick Joe Biden, by contrast, was chiding Wal-Mart in 2006 for what he called inadequate wages and employee health benefits.

But the key question isn’t whether a President Obama or a President McCain could feel the pain and frustration of Wal-Mart shoppers. (I can’t see McCain buying Better Homes and Gardens accessories at Wal-Mart for any of his multiple luxury abodes. Obama probably doesn’t pick up his arugula there, though it’s available in salad mixes.)

The question is which of the presidential candidates is likelier to have smart, workable ideas for improving the areas that regular people care about and struggle with every day: educating their kids and sending them to college; feeding their families on wages that are stagnating when prices are rising; paying the mortgage, the utilities, the gas to get around, taxes and other essentials; saving for retirement; affording doctor bills and prescription costs.

Which of the vice presidential candidates can bring a big-picture view to the discussion, as well as an understanding of how to get workable legislation through Congress?

These issues aren’t important just to Wal-Mart shoppers. And they aren’t the only voters the candidates still have to convince.

Linda P. Campbell is a columnist for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. Her e-mail is lcampbellstar-

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