By Dan De Luce
Tuesday, October 12, 2004
"Security moms" have caught the imagination of political pundits and reporters in this year's presidential campaign, but do they really exist? Pollsters say it's a myth and that women are leaning towards Kerry.
WASHINGTON (WOMENSENEWS)--You can't find them in polling data, but they are supposed to be this year's electoral phenomenon.
Meet the so-called "security moms," a pivotal group cited again and again by savvy television analysts and political commentators. They are portrayed as married women with children who fear the threat of terrorism and prefer President George W. Bush in this year's election.
The term may have taken hold in the news media, but opinion polls show no such trend or special voting bloc. According to pollsters, married mothers do not place a disproportionate emphasis on terrorism compared to other voters, ranking the issue as a priority along with the war in Iraq and the economy.
Women who fit the "security moms" description are merely affluent white women who were voting Republican long before Sept. 11, 2001, said Debbie Walsh at the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University in New Jersey.
"A lot of the women who fit into this category are Bush supporters to begin with," Walsh said. "It's a false concept."
With women forming a majority of undecided voters--about 62 percent according to a poll by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press--the outcome of the election will most likely be determined by the candidate who inspires more confidence on the economy, health care and jobs not necessarily national security, according to Walsh. Polls show female voters focus more on domestic issues because "women feel more economically vulnerable," she said.
Contrary to speculation about "security moms," Zogby polls and other surveys show Kerry with a solid lead among female voters in battleground states, including Minnesota, Wisconsin, Oregon, Pennsylvania and New Mexico. The preference for Kerry is consistent with what poll experts call the "gender gap," in which female voters favor the Democratic presidential candidate by a clear margin compared to their male counterparts. The gap emerged in 1980 and shows no sign of fading away.
In several battleground states, Kerry's lead among female voters surpasses Al Gore's numbers in the 2000 vote. "I've been looking at these polls for three decades, and I've never seen the gender gap as wide as this," said Eleanor Smeal, president of the Washington-based Feminist Majority Foundation.
Yet conservative commentators and news outlets have pushed the idea that mothers traumatized by 9/11 are gravitating towards Bush, with right-wing polemicist Michelle Malkin declaring in an op-ed piece that the election would be decided by "security moms" like her. "I believe in the right to defend myself, and in America's right to defend itself against its enemies. I am a citizen of the United States, not the United Nations," she wrote in a commentary published in USA Today in July. The founder of the Security Moms 4 Bush Web site, Nancy Kennon, refers to herself as a "security mom" and says her essay posted on the Internet struck a chord with women concerned about safety after 9/11. "We feel that George W. Bush has the strength and the tenacity to keep the terrorists out of the country," Kennon said.
Speaking by telephone from her home in a suburb in New York state, Kennon said "at least half" of her organization's members were conservative minded but said some members are registered Democrats. The Web site carries links to commentaries in right-wing media, including The National Review, Fox News and The Washington Times. One message recently posted from a woman in San Marcos, Calif., lauds Bush as a modern day King David.
The widows of 9/11 victims appear deeply divided over the election. After some family members appeared at the Republican convention to give their blessing to Bush's re-election, a group of five widows declared their distrust of the Bush administration and endorsed Kerry. One of the widows, Kristen Breitweiser of Middletown, N.J., a former Republican, has appeared at campaign rallies along side Kerry's running mate, Sen. John Edwards, making emotional appeals. Breitweiser is the best known member of a group of four 9/11 widows, who call themselves "The Jersey Girls," that have testified before Congress, met with administration officials, and lobbied successfully for the creation of the 9/11 Commission to look into intelligence failures leading up to the 2001 attacks.
Breitweiser, who voted for Bush in the last election, said she feels let down and betrayed by the administration's response to the attacks. "They circled the wagons, they stonewalled, they blocked, they foot-dragged," she recently told The Washington Post.
Last month, The New York Times cited a nationwide poll that showed Kerry's support among women at a lower level than Gore enjoyed four years ago. The article described Kerry struggling to win over "security moms" and similar stories appeared in The Washington Post and other publications.
A closer examination of the data, however, reveals that Bush's support drew equally among men and female voters, according to Philip Klinker, professor of government at Hamilton College. No data indicated that married mothers were moving in significant numbers towards Bush based on a presumed focus on "security."
Since then, Bush's lead in nationwide polls has evaporated yet the notion of the "security mom" seems to have stuck.
For Lee Nelson, 52, a married mother of a teen-age daughter, the "security mom" references are a constant source of irritation. "If I hear 'W is for women' one more time I'm going to start hurling," Nelson told Women's eNews.
Returning to political activism for the first time in 30 years, Nelson has joined Mothers Opposing Bush (MOB) and now goes door to door to encourage Democrats to vote for Kerry on Nov. 2. She said the White House misled the public about the rationale for the war in Iraq and that she doesn't feel safer with Bush in office.
"There are a lot of women out here who are fed up," said Nelson, who lives in Wyndmoor, Pa., part of a crucial Congressional district in a hotly-contested state.
Nelson said she fears conservative appointments to the Supreme Court if Bush is re-elected and that fellow activists are concerned about Bush mobilizing reservists and former soldiers through a possible "back-door" draft.
She initially supported the war in Iraq with deep ambivalence, but has since concluded the invasion was a reckless mistake. "I was sort of on the fence about the war. But I started reading and I realized in a few months this was really wrong and we should never have been there."
After treating politics as a spectator sport, Nelson said she is determined to stay politically active and feels too many women became complacent in recent years. "Come November, whoever wins, I'm forever changed. I'll never let it slide again."
Dan De Luce was the correspondent for The Guardian in Iran until he was ordered by the authorities Tehran to leave earlier this year. Prior to that, he worked for Reuters during and after the conflict in former Yugoslavia and for the international administration in Bosnia-Herzegovina.
The myth of 'security moms':
[Post in response by Nancy Kennon of "Security Moms 4 Bush"]
The Dems want us to be quiet!:
Mothers Opposing Bush: