After the shutdown: For some voters, rising disgust with Washington

Reuters

* Focus groups find a loss of faith in government

* Female swing voters reluctant to assign blame for fiscalimpasse

* Moms liken lawmakers to pouting toddlers

By John Whitesides

WASHINGTON, Oct 17 (Reuters) - President Barack Obama andCongress may have settled the U.S. fiscal impasse for now, butsome voters say politicians will have an even tougher jobrestoring the public's shattered faith in government.

Low- and middle-income mothers in focus groups conducted asthe showdown ended on Wednesday night used words like disgusted,angry, frustrated and embarrassed when discussing the stalematethat shut down the government and brought it to the verge of ahistoric default.

The political behavior seemed familiar to the young mothers,so-called Wal-Mart moms who do not pay much attention topolitics but whose support can help swing a close election.

"They are acting like children, toddlers, saying 'I don'thave to talk to you,'" said Courtney, the mother of a 2- and a6-year-old. Added Cass, a mother of three children: "Someonedecided to take their ball and go home."

The two focus groups - one in Nashville, Tennessee, and onein Kansas City, Missouri - consisted of a group of swing voters with at least one child at home who shop at Wal-Mart at leastonce a month. It was organized by pollsters and watched byjournalists in Washington who could use only the first names ofparticipants.

The women expressed a deepening level of disgust withWashington politicians, never a popular group to begin with, anda fear the country's political chasms were becoming permanent.

"We're coming to an unrepairable great divide. Compromise isno longer in their vocabulary," said Julia, the mother of a6-year-old in Nashville.

Most said they would still vote in 2014, when Democrats willtry to hold power in the Senate and Republicans in the House ofRepresentatives, but they would be more careful to look forempathetic candidates who could compromise with political foes.

"It would have to be someone who wasn't polarizing," saidJaclyn in Nashville, the mother of a 2-year-old.

'BROKEN TRUST'

The pollsters said the women had developed a harsher view ofWashington since the fiscal crisis. The women in Kansas Cityalso participated in a focus group in February after Obama'sState of the Union address.

"Trust has been broken between these women and D.C., andthere is a permanence to it," said Republican pollster NeilNewhouse, who organized the focus groups along with Democraticpollster Margie Omero. "The patience of Americans has run out."

At the White House, Obama on Thursday acknowledged theshutdown had precipitated a loss of faith in the politicalsystem.

"The American people are completely fed up with Washington,"Obama said. "We've all got a lot of work to do on behalf of theAmerican people, and that includes the hard work of regainingtheir trust."

The "Wal-Mart moms" - a group of swing voters firstidentified in 2008 and tracked since then for Wal-Mart, theworld's largest retailer, by Newhouse and Omero - account forabout 14 percent to 17 percent of the electorate.

As a whole they are about two-thirds white, mostly betweenthe ages of 18 and 44, and slightly more than half make between$20,000 and $80,000 a year.

The pollsters said the group went for Obama in 2008, backedRepublicans during that party's congressional election wins of2010 and shifted again to Obama in 2012, making them apotentially critical bellwether for next year's midtermelections.

But while national opinion polls have shown more votersblame Republicans for the fiscal showdown than Democrats, mostof the focus group participants - split between supporters ofObama and Republican Mitt Romney in the last election - werereluctant to take sides.

"It wasn't just one decision that got us here. It's bothsides," said Amber, a mother of two children in Nashville.

A few of the women did blame Republicans and criticized theTea Party conservatives who demanded changes to Obama'shealthcare law in return for supporting a government fundingbill.

"It's a law. You can't hold our country hostage just becauseyou don't like it," said Elizabeth in Kansas City. Jeanne inNashville said Republicans were "pitching a hissy fit."

Many of the women said politicians did not understand theirlives and were living in a Washington bubble.

"These moms don't feel like candidates are talking to them,"Omero said. "Candidates wanting to win these moms over will haveto demonstrate they understand their daily struggles."

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