There are lots of reasons to shrug off pollster-pushed stories about these swing voter-groups-of-the moment, which the Atlantic Wire’s John Hudson, piggybacking on analysis by Nate Silver, did here in response to last week’s focus groups:
The only thing more frustrating than the opaqueness of the response data, which consists of gut feelings from three 10-person focus groups who spoke for 90 minutes—that is, 30 people speaking for four-and-a-half hours, or slightly longer than the NBC’s Today show—is the hard reality that determining elections by catchphrase demographics is notoriously difficult. As The New York Times’s Nate Silver explained in March:
The impact that demographics have on voting behavior is a lot more fluid than you might think from all the talk of “soccer moms” and “Nascar dads.” … The truth is that none of us is just one thing. We are all members of any number of different demographic categories — and the voting tendencies associated with those categories often point in different, or even conflicting, directions. For instance, I am a non-unionized white male who makes an above-average income, all things that predict Republican voting — but I’m also college-educated, relatively young, and live in the urban Northeast, all things that predict Democratic voting. To the extent that my political interests are dictated by my demographics, I have a lot of competing priorities.
Shame on Walmart, if that’s possible at this point, for this PR stunt. But shame on the press for playing along, unwittingly or not. Surely there are more meaningful ways for pollsters to segment the population—and for the media to report on it—than by their shopping habits.
Despite all this, the stories and responses that were reported from these focus groups were genuine and in many cases, quite touching. Whitesides’ Reuters piece reads like it has been ripped from the We are the 99% Tumblr:
“It is frustrating,” said Sarah, mother of a 3-year-old girl. “The banks got bailed out, and they’re the ones who started all this. They get bailed out, and they’re all fine and dandy. We’re the little people, and you just want a little bit of a break and we just can’t get it. There is never anything in this country anymore that is trying to help us.”
This is of course the biggest shame of all. It’s long overdue that the media gives America’s working class a voice. It’s just too bad this only happens at the behest of America’s biggest big box retailer and its polling firms.