Politics from the Palouse to Puget Sound

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

"Wal-Mart Is Dems' No. 1 Target, But Polls Show Retailer Popular"

From Investor's Business Daily:
Democrats have found a new threat to the American way of life. It's not high gas prices or high prescription drug prices, but rather low prices — namely, Wal-Mart's.

In rallies nationwide, top Democrats have joined with union-backed groups in attacking the nonunion retail giant and its business practices.

The actions show that Democrats now believe there are votes to be won by taking on Wal-Mart. At the very least they think their core supporters will cheer them on.

"It's unconscionable and it is unacceptable that five of the 10 richest people in America are Wal-Mart stockholders . . . but (the company) can't find the money to secure health coverage for their own workers and their families," said Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., in a speech this summer.

Is public opinion of Wal-Mart that sour? Polls suggest most people hold a complex but overall positive opinion of it. Indeed, Democrats risk offending Wal-Mart shoppers, some pollsters note.

In a Pew Research Center national poll released in December, 65% of respondents had an overall favorable opinion of Wal-Mart. Just 30% viewed it negatively; 43% of liberal Democrats viewed the company negatively.

"By greater than 2-to-1 (64% to 23%) conservative and moderate Democrats say Wal-Mart has a good effect on the country," the survey reported. The differences are even sharper when income differences are taken into account.

"There could be a potential danger of (candidates) overreaching,"
said Carroll Doherty, associate director of the Pew Research Center.

Pew found the Democrats' rank and file "deeply divided" on Wal-Mart, with the strongest negative opinion among those who rarely shop at the store.

For example, Chicago Mayor Richard Daley, a Democrat, vetoed a "living wage" bill last week that targeted Wal-Mart and other big box retailers, arguing it would drive jobs and businesses from the city. Wal-Mart critics failed to get the veto overridden in the city council.

Other polls show similar conflicts.

A Quinnipiac University poll in February found that New Yorkers support Wal-Mart opening stores in the Big Apple, 51% to 37%; among union households, 47% to 37%. Nearly two-thirds of New Yorkers, 65%, said they would shop there if one opened.

A December poll by Zogby International found 58% had an overall favorable view of the retailer, while 38% had an unfavorable view.

The Zogby poll is noteworthy because Wake Up Wal-Mart, an anti-Wal-Mart group backed by the United Food and Commercial Workers union, commissioned it.

A June poll by RT Strategies for a Wal-Mart-allied group, Working Families for Wal-Mart, found that 62% of adults disapproved of candidates making the discounter an issue in the fall election.

Wal-Mart, alarmed that's it become a political issue, has brandished the polls as a warning to pols.

"The Pew study shows it won't win you votes," said Wal-Mart spokeswoman Sarah Clark. She derided the recent events as "PR stunts."

Democrats don't see it that way. In late August, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, R-Nev., participated in a hometown rally organized by the union-backed Wake Up Wal-Mart.

Bitter rivals Sen. Joe Lieberman, D-Conn., and businessman Ned Lamont made a rare joint appearance at an anti-Wal-Mart event before the Connecticut primary. Lieberman also returned a $1,000 campaign donation from Wal-Mart.

"We're all together today in wanting to wake up Wal-Mart and say, 'Treat your workers fairly,' " Lieberman said at the event.

Presidential hopefuls Kerry, Sen. Joe Biden, D-Del., Sen. Evan Bayh, D-Ind., former vice presidential candidate John Edwards and New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson have also attacked the retailer at recent events.

Critics dispute polls suggesting the public holds a benign view of Wal-Mart, arguing Democrats are tapping into a wave of populist anger.

"The American people want change. They want corporate responsibility," said Paul Blank, spokesman for Wake-Up Wal-Mart. The group calls for the retail giant to increase wages and benefits and let workers organize.

Wake-Up Wal-Mart politicizes the fight further in its press releases. They attack Wal-Mart as not merely a bad corporate citizen, but also as a "right wing" company.

Asked if such accusations would cause a backlash in red-state areas that Democrats need to win to retake Congress, Blank replied, "I couldn't disagree more."

Ruy Teixeira, polling analyst for the liberal Center for American Progress, said the issue might help Democrats because it could excite their most loyal voters — always key in an off-year election. But it is risky.

"My gut tells me it depends on how they present it," he said.
My prediction: If Wal-Mart is the best the pathetic Rats can come up with as an issue, they will have once again managed to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.

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HT: Exposing the Paid Critics

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