(WOMENSENEWS)–Add one more item to the list of the Big Unknowns for the presidential campaign: How are women responding to the debates and the candidates’ pitches?
Few polls publicly release comprehensive gender data–broken down by state, martial status-and those that do acknowledge that their findings are hindered by public’s reluctance to answer polling calls.
Nevertheless, the voting power of women–who represent over half of the U.S. electorate and have voted at higher rates than men since 1980, according to U.S. Census data–is fueling strong attempts to court them this year.
George W. Bush’s “W Stands for Women” campaign is vying with John Kerry’s “Women for Kerry” initiative for their support. And a variety of nonpartisan efforts are doing what they can to ensure that women turn out on Nov. 2.
The most recent data released in late September and early October varied greatly in their estimates of how women would vote in November.
The Pew Research Center for the People and the Press, based in Washington, D.C., which collected a detailed collection of gender data and released it in an Oct. 4 poll, offers some of the strongest clues to the female vote mystery.
Three of the center’s latest polls–two from September and one from
Oct. 1-3–showed significant vacillations in women’s support of Bush and Kerry.
Bush’s support among women in these polls–which were based on two different random survey populations, one in the September polls and another in
October–dropped from 48 percent to 43 percent from the first poll to the second and stood at 43 percent by early October. Kerry started with a low of 42 percent of the predicted female vote in the Sept. 8-10 poll, then jumped to 48 percent in the Sept. 11-14 poll.
A Washington Post-ABC News poll released Sept. 28 showed Kerry leading by 3 percentage points among women, while a Chicago Tribune poll of several battleground states conducted October 8-11 showed Kerry holding a huge lead in two states: 13 percentage points in Minnesota and 19 points in Wisconsin.
And a CBS News poll comparing support for Kerry among women after the first presidential debate to support measured in an October 9-11 poll showed a drop from 49 percent to 43 percent.
These and other media-run polls, however, are fluctuating weekly.
In September alone, 24 major polls comparing George W. Bush’s voter support to John Kerry’s were featured on PollingReport.com. Within those polls, the margin of voter support separating the candidates ranged from zero to 13 percentage points.
When it comes to female voters, the data and opinion get even murkier.
Among the 18-to-25 age group, cell phone use is especially high, and many pollsters fear that because cell phones cannot be incorporated into current random-dialing polling methods, those young voters’ perspectives are being left out of the data.
That means it’s been hard to take the political temperature of young female voters, who practically ignored the past two presidential elections. According to a study conducted by Rutgers, George Mason and DePaul universities in early 2004, only 22 percent of women between the ages of 20 to 30 describe themselves as regular voters.
In addition, the recent Pew Center data indicate that women under 50 fluctuated significantly more than older women and men of all ages. Only 41 percent supported Kerry in the first poll, but in the second poll their support of him spiked to 49 percent, the highest of any group. In the third poll it dropped to 44 percent, one point below their support of Bush.
Women–especially those under 50–“are being pulled in two directions,” said Pew Editor Carroll Doherty in a phone interview. “They favor Kerry on most domestic issues, but they favor Bush on security and they are having a hard time deciding.”
Pollster John Zogby of Zogby International–an independent polling agency based in Utica, N.Y., whose election-eve polls in 1996 and 2000 came very close to the actual tally–says one thing to watch for among women voters this year is the “marriage gap,” in which married women’s support of Bush will be stronger than that of single women.
A Reuters/Zogby poll released Oct. 7 suggests a wide marriage gap among both sexes; Bush leads by 13 percent among married voters, while Kerry leads by a hefty 27 percent among unmarried voters.
Targeting Unmarried Women
This year more than ever there is a move afoot to target the most unpredictable voters in this election, unmarried women.
“Women’s Voices. Women’s Vote.,” a nonprofit effort based in Washington, D.C., that is trying to drive unmarried women to the polls, has reported that 22 million unmarried women who were eligible to vote did not cast ballots in the 2000 election. Organizers say neither candidate stirs these women on the issues that top their concerns: child care, equal pay and healthcare. Neither candidate has these women’s votes locked down, the group said.
The fluctuations in the polls may simply be the natural result of their margins of error, said Barbara Norrander, a political science professor at the Tucson-based University of Arizona who has written extensively on politics and the gender gap.
The gap separating male and female voters hovered between 5 and 10 percentage points in the 1980s before reaching a high of about 15 percentage points in 1996, she said. It dropped again to about 10 percentage points in 2000, she said, and she predicts it will be a standard 8-to-10 points this year.
“Some women are shifting to Bush to ‘protect us,'” she told Women’s eNews, “but there are also some who are shifting to Kerry because they oppose the war. As a lot of people will end up voting along party lines anyway, I suspect you’ll see a pretty typical gender gap once the votes are in.”
Anna Greenberg, vice president of Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research, wrote in a Sept. 23 memo on the company’s Web site that the whole idea of the “security mom” is a myth that “profoundly misrepresent(s) who women are and what they worry about politically.”
“Women are diverse,” she added, “and trying to characterize them as a monolithic group with unified set of political views misses the mark.”
Robin Hindery is a writer for Women’s eNews in New York City.
For more information:
Women’s Voices. Women’s Vote.:
Pollsters Call ‘Security Moms’ a Myth:
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