The election is getting closer, and polls show that twice as many women as men are still on the fence. Both President Barack Obama and Republican candidate Mitt Romney are wooing women because we have clout: In 2008, for example, 10 million more women voted than men. To pinpoint the issues that matter most to moms, Parents recently invited a group with a variety of political views to a luncheon roundtable moderated by Soledad O'Brien, anchor of CNN's Starting Point With Soledad.
We heard loud and clear that moms are underwhelmed with their options, and neither of the candidates has a lock. Some who voted for Obama four years ago are disappointed and feel he broke promises. Others who usually vote Republican are lukewarm about Romney. And even though he won't be on the ballot, a few still wish they could vote for Ron Paul. "People saw themselves as a combination of philosophies," said O'Brien. "They described themselves as a 'left-leaning Republican' or a 'Democrat thinking about Romney.'" In our September issue, we covered moms' concerns about education and the environment. In this second of our three-part series, we focus on the economy, how much government moms want in their daily lives, and political polarization.
No matter where they are on the political spectrum, moms long for a leader who can rebuild the economy. Many spoke about how tough it is to simply own a home and raise a family. Take Jessica Grant, 34, a Republican and mom of children ages 7, 5, and 2. She and her husband, both lawyers, are paying off $300,000 in student loans and can't refinance their mortgage, now at 6.75 percent. "Our loan-to-value ratio is low, so we're stuck. We're the ones who get the short end of the stick. We don't want a bailout; we took on obligations and will repay them."
Although her work with charter schools makes her very aware of the obstacles that low-income parents face, Valerie Babb, 39, a Democrat and mom of daughters ages 7 and 3, said she sometimes feels that the pinch on the middle class is even greater. "We work hard. My husband and I make decent money on paper, but that's not what we take home. It's very frustrating."
When the economy took a dive back in 2008, people were trying to have a good attitude, recalled Emily McKhann, 50, an Obama supporter and mom of children ages 12 and 10. "We were all saying, 'let's have a pantry challenge' and making DIY holiday gifts. Now there's exhaustion. I know that people keep saying the economy is rebounding, but it's still all that the moms I know are talking about," says McKhann, cofounder of themotherhood.com. "They struggle to make ends meet and to find a job that is actually going to allow them to put food on the table and sneakers on their kids, and pay for college." O'Brien pointed out that every head in the room was nodding in agreement.
Some moms, like Thalia Stamatelos, 48, who has children ages 6 and 2, believe that the Republicans will do a better job of putting more money in families' pockets by reducing taxes. "I'm a small-business owner. I worry how I will pay my employees and how I will get through the next day," she said. "But I am just trying to be successful, and that's the American way. If people have earned money, they should get it. It's not right to take their money away from them." O'Brien was struck by the tone in the room. "Moms really want to talk about the economy. And not just talk. They want very practical, solution-oriented information."
Moms are also fed up with partisan gridlock, and they want a leader who can help the parties work together to make smart choices. "I definitely feel like we have a do-nothing Congress," said Toniel Speidel, 36, a Democrat, who has a 7-year-old and 1-year-old twins. "Everything has become about 'How can I turn your record around and twist your words?' Both parties are doing it. It drives a deep divide within the country."
That dissatisfaction seemed to cut across all age groups and party lines, and many of the moms in our group wanted less from Washington, not more. "While there's a lot of optimism among people my age, there's also a growing mistrust of the federal government," said Stephanie Lind, 26, a mom of daughters ages 3 and 1. A former Ron Paul supporter, she said that she was still undecided. Others expressed concerns about excessive regulation of health care, including contraception. "I feel like the government is very concerned with my womb, and it bothers me," said Babb. Added Grant, "Social issues like abortion are important because everybody has an opinion about them, but it's less likely that you'll see anything done about them after the election."
And while all our mothers wanted better health care for women and children, there was little agreement about how to improve it. "It's financially impossible for the entire country to be covered," said Stamatelos. "People opposed to 'big government' need to keep in mind that government does many good things that families value, including providing health care," countered Sharon Lerner, 45, a Democrat and mom of kids ages 4 and 6.
"Everything is about funding," said O'Brien. "That's why people say everyone votes on the economy. We live in a zero-sum game. There is less money than there was because of the economic situation, but you can see the contradictions. The list of what people want is long and expensive."
Our group definitely wished to see less bickering and more accountability in this presidential election. "The candidates are out there trying to court moms," said Divina Rodriguez, 30, a Democrat and mom of children ages 4 and 22 months. "They make promises, but they have to be there to support what they say; to put money and power and action into all these promises."
Originally published in the October 2012 issue of Parents magazine.