Suburban women are deeply troubled by the economic downturn and aren't drawn to either President Obama or Republican challenger Mitt Romney, according to a summary of a new focus group conducted by Democratic pollster Peter Hart.
In an analysis released to reporters Friday, Hart says, "The pain from the economic recession remains very raw and real." He says eight of the 12 women in the focus group "tell a story about how the economic recession has changed their own life and that of an immediate family member. .... When 10 of 12 people say the recession has had a direct effect on them or their immediate family, one gets a sense of how deeply it cuts.
"Romney has the advantage here," he adds, "not because of his ideas, but because Obama is blamed for the current bad economy."
The women were also displeased with the negative nature of the campaign.
"While they seem resigned to it, they are turned off," Hart says. "The campaign is 'cut throat,' 'backstabbing,' 'dirty and annoying' and as one women stated, 'I don't trust anything.' "
One striking element of the discussion, Hart adds, was that Romney's choice of Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin as his vice-presidential running mate has had the effect of reminding suburban women of what they find lacking in Romney himself.
"Paul Ryan's image actually highlights people's reservations with Mitt Romney," Hart notes. "Ryan exemplifies many of the qualities these women feel are totally missing in Mitt Romney, and while Ryan seems down-home, Romney never seems at home with himself. Ryan is 'friendly and sociable,' whereas Romney is 'snobbish and would not talk to us.' "
But beyond his positive personal characteristics, some of Ryan's conservative policies turn the women off and he was described as "insensitive."
Hart concludes that, "The Romney campaign is paying a major price for having failed to define its candidate more fully and in a more human and relatable way in the 132 days since he became the presumptive GOP standard-bearer. He remains less well-defined today, and the tax returns issue [in which Romney has refused to release many details of his tax history] has created uncertinty over whether he is one of us and can be trusted. The election remains close because of economic uncertainty in the country."
The two-hour discussion was conducted in the Milwaukee suburbs with a dozen female swing voters or "soft supporters" of Obama or Romney, Hart said. Suburban women will be a key voting bloc in November, and Wisconsin will be a key battleground state.
The focus group was sponsored by the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania.
Ken Walsh covers the White House and politics for U.S. News. He writes the daily blog, "Ken Walsh's Washington," for usnews.com and is the author of "The Presidency" column for the U.S. News Weekly. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Facebook and Twitter.