By John Whitesides
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Their views on the economy are relentlessly bleak, but America's so-called Walmart Moms -- the much-coveted working-class female voters whose support can swing an election -- do not blame President Barack Obama and have not given up on him.
In voter focus groups conducted on Wednesday night in the political battleground states of Florida, New Hampshire and Iowa, the young mothers used words like disappointing, mediocre, wishy-washy and indifferent to describe Obama.
But they also acknowledged Obama alone could not resolve persistent U.S. economic difficulties in the three years he has been in the job. Many gave the president credit for trying and said they would consider voting for him again in 2012.
"I think President Obama inherited this mess. I think he's doing the best he can," said Debbie in New Hampshire, an Obama voter in 2008. Laura in Florida, another Obama backer, said: "You can't expect a miracle worker."
The three 10-person focus groups consisted of women with children at home who had shopped at the retail giant Walmart in the last month. The 90-minute sessions were organized by pollsters and watched by video by journalists in Washington who were allowed to identify the women only by first name.
Many of the participants, split roughly between those who backed Obama in 2008 and those who voted for Republican John McCain, criticized Obama for a lack of results. Some said he was not a forceful leader.
"I don't feel like he is being strong enough," said Cheryl in Florida. "He does have good ideas but I don't think he pushes them through. That concerns me."
The Walmart Moms -- a catch phrase used by pollsters to identify key political swing groups, in the tradition of U.S. "soccer moms" and "NASCAR dads" -- account for about 15 percent of the electorate.
As a whole they are about two-thirds white, mostly under the age of 44 and fairly evenly split between Republicans and Democrats. About half make less than $50,000 a year, said pollsters Neil Newhouse, a Republican, and Margie Omero, a Democrat, who conducted the focus groups.
The group leaned slightly to Obama when he won in 2008 but shifted to Republicans in the 2010 congressional elections, making them a potentially crucial indicator of the prevailing political winds in the 2012 battle for the White House.
'NOT GIVING UP ON OBAMA'
In that respect, the message from the focus groups provided some good news for Obama. His overall approval ratings have sunk into the low 40s as the economy continues to falter.
"These voters don't seem like they have given up on Obama," Newhouse, the Republican pollster, said. "They are losing patience with Washington, but it seemed like Obama doesn't come out that bad."
A few members of each group said they definitely would not vote for Obama in 2012, and a few said they would. But most were not close to deciding who they would support.
"I'm disappointed at the lack of action," said Lisa in Iowa. She backed Obama in 2008 but said she would not do so again.
Few were paying much attention to the Republican race to pick a nominee to challenge Obama in 2012, and they had little good to say about the U.S. Congress. Many said members of Congress were more interested in politics than progress.
"It takes forever to get things passed," said Kimberly in Florida. "We're waiting and we're waiting and we're waiting."
Social issues like abortion and immigration that can play a big role in Republican primary campaigns were totally ignored by the focus group moms, who listed pocketbook economic issues, education and healthcare as their big concerns.
Many said they or someone in their family had been laid off from a job and nearly all said they had been forced to adjust their lifestyle to deal with the worsening economy.
Some moved in with parents after a divorce. Others were working a second job, delaying vacations, paying off credit cards or clipping coupons when shopping. They used words like scared, confused, worried and frustrated to describe the economy.
"It's a daily struggle," said Debbie in New Hampshire. Added Denise: "I feel like there is a new disaster every day."
Few blamed Obama for the economic troubles, but banks and Wall Street did get some of the blame. Some blamed themselves for overextending their credit.
"These voters seem like they have lost control," Newhouse said. "There is a sense of total uncertainty. There is a sense they are living on the edge, they are living on the precipice."
(Editing by Philip Barbara)