To these 20 middle-class mothers in the electoral battlegrounds of Columbus, Ohio, and Phoenix, the looming choice for president between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump inspires a mixture of fear, pain and disappointment.
“Nauseated,” said one woman.
“It’s like choosing which arm to cut off,” said another.
“I kind of wish we could start all over,” said a third.
Such is the mood of America’s undecided voters, just 89 days until Election Day.
Two focus groups of “Walmart moms” — most of them in their 30s and 40s, from diverse backgrounds and with household incomes mirroring the overall electorate — were convened Tuesday night in Ohio and Arizona by two polling firms and observed by reporters. They showed extraordinary resistance to the two major-party presidential nominees.
The women, whose surnames were withheld for privacy reasons, described Clinton as deceptive, inconsistent and out of touch with the lives of regular people like themselves. When the 10 moms in Ohio were asked their biggest hesitation with voting for Clinton, eight said she is “untrustworthy.” Many of the 10 moms in Phoenix gave similar responses.
“I think they are all liars, but I feel like she gets caught a lot,” said Julie, an office administrator in Columbus.
Linda, a business owner in Phoenix, said she is tired of watching Clinton sweep scandals under the rug: “There’s so much stuffed under there they can’t even lay the carpet down flat now.”
Only a few of them said the historic nature of Clinton’s candidacy inspired them. “I have daughters,” said Dana, a food service worker in Columbus. “It would be a big step for women. But that’s the only — only — positive I see coming from Hillary.”
The women’s views of Trump were just as harsh, if not worse. They see the business mogul as an inexperienced, impulsive hothead who is unwilling to listen and learn and lacking in humility. Ivania, a radiation safety officer in Columbus, said electing Trump president would be “kind of like sending a painter to do a doctor’s job.”
Africa, a single mom and businesswoman in Phoenix, said Trump is too authoritarian. “Kind of like a dictator,” she said. “If we were looking for a Noriega, he’d be great.”
“He’s a racist, really,” said Anita, who works in sales in Phoenix.
Added Deanna, a Phoenix homemaker with four small children, “He acts like a 2-year-old. I have a 2-year-old. I see the similarities.”
In Columbus, three women said they were leaning toward voting for Trump, two for Clinton, and five were undecided and open to a third-party candidate, such as Libertarian Party nominee Gary Johnson. In Phoenix, five leaned toward Clinton, two toward Trump and three were undecided.
Nearly all of the 20 women said they expected Clinton to win, however.
“He’s going to do something between now and November to really shoot himself in the foot,” predicted Connie, who is unemployed in Phoenix. “He’s just going to self-implode.”
Tuesday’s sessions — convened jointly by Penn Schoen Berland, a Democratic polling firm, and Public Opinion Strategies, a Republican firm — were the latest in a series of “Walmart moms” focus groups studying the political beliefs of a key swing voter group that tipped the scale for President Obama in 2008 and 2012 but backed Republicans in the 2010 congressional midterms.
In both Ohio and Arizona, incumbent Republican senators fared better than Trump with these women. In Columbus, six of the 10 said they planned to vote to reelect Sen. Rob Portman (R) and four for his Democratic challenger, Ted Strickland. In Phoenix, four women said they were backing Sen. John McCain (R) and three his Democratic opponent, Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick.
The women in both groups felt the candidates were in a downward spiral of attacking and belittling each other and not focused enough on important issues such as health care and the economy. They said they feel the country is on a better track economically than a few years ago but that the political system is broken, and they fear the rise of terrorism.
Stephanie, who works in sales and customer service in Phoenix, said, “I don’t trust that [Clinton] would protect our country, but I also think that Trump would get us right into World War III.”
If they were ready to cede the presidency to Clinton, these women still saw a lot to like in Trump. Asked who they would rather invite over to their home for a backyard cookout with family and friends, they overwhelmingly chose Trump.
“I feel like personally he would be more fun and outgoing than Hillary in her suit sitting next to me,” said Donna, a pain clinic manager in Columbus.
Clinton is “emotionless” and “has an extremely hard shell around her,” said Julie, the Columbus office administrator.
“Cold” is how Mary, a retired cable television saleswoman in Columbus, described Clinton. “She’s a cold-hearted [expletive].”
In a revealing moment of levity, the women were asked which Olympic sport they could picture each candidate competing in. They imagined Trump swimming (“his mouth needs a rest”), playing tennis (“back and forth with everybody”), archery (“I just can picture him completely nailing it”) and rowing as the boat’s coxswain (“yell at them to keep going”).
For Clinton, the women suggested golf (“boring”), archery (“shoot to kill”), fencing (“she’ll stab you in the back”) and gymnastics (“she has to stay balanced — tries to please as many people as possible”).
As they contemplated the November election, the women sighed. They said they were disgusted by the tone of it all — the name-calling, the attacks, the partisanship. They wish there were other options than Clinton and Trump.
“I’d [rather] pick Minnie Mouse right now,” Ivania said.
“In politics, nobody’s ever great, but these two are just blah,” Deanna said. “They make me sick. With their integrity and moral values, it’s kind of gross.”
Gidget, a customer service manager in Columbus, summed up the choice: “I feel like no matter which way we chose, we’re going to lose.”
The women paused to think of the first word that first comes to mind when they hear “President Hillary Clinton.”
“I cringe,” said Maria, a homemaker and lunch aide in Columbus.
“Deal with it, and pray,” said Nicole, a mail carrier in Phoenix.
What about when they hear “President Donald Trump”?
“A joke,” said Anita.
“A buffoon,” said Deanna.
Added Amy, a massage therapist in Phoenix, “Hang on.”