Scrutinizing the scrutiny over the women’s vote

By GILLIAN ROBERTS, MEDILL NEWS SERVICE, Written for UPI  |  Oct. 4, 2012 at 3:25 PM
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WASHINGTON, Oct. 4 (UPI) -- If it were decided by polls -- 2012 might be called the year of the woman voter.

Pollsters, the campaigns and the media seem to be fixating on the question of what women think this election season.

In the last three months, the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute released 24 polls and, of those, three were issued with headlines about the female voter bloc. No other gender, racial or ethnic group was called out in a headline.

The most recent poll released Tuesday had an accompanying news release headlined: "Women give Obama an edge over Romney, Quinnipiac University poll finds likely voters pick President to win debate 2-1."

One Democratic pollster says that focus isn't surprising.

"Women's issues have featured more prominently this campaign than any other in recent history, so there's more interest than ever in the intersection of women's issues and the women's vote," said Celinda Lake, president of Lake Research, a Democratic polling and strategy company.

Another expert, though, sees a problem with grouping all women together when it comes to voting.

"We need to get away from thinking of women as a whole voting bloc, there are many different breakdowns within how women vote that make them different," said Kathleen Dolan, author of "Voting for Women: How the Public Evaluates Women Candidates," and political science professor at University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

Dolan says the media have a lot to do with the misconception.

"I think the media focuses on women probably because it's easy for them and for consumers to digest," she continued. "But there are other breakdowns that should be focused on too – religiosity, race, marriage, suburban versus urban and so on."

Lake defends looking at the women's vote because they will likely decide the election.

"It was evident to Democrats in 2010 when they lost women voters for the first time in 47 years," she said.

Lake said there were 11 million unmarried women voters who turned out to vote in 2008 but not in 2010 and 6.6 million young women who turned out in 2008 who didn't in 2010, a non-presidential election year.

Peter Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute, said that while the gender gap is important, it's misunderstood.

"It's really about the marriage and gender gap," he emphasized. "Single women are largely for the president, while married women are marginally for Romney. Single men are marginally for Obama, married men are overwhelmingly for Romney," he said.

Lake says where the women's vote might matter the most is in local elections for the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate.

"I think we'll see a record amount of direct mail from the campaigns after the debates," she said. "They'll be looking to reach younger and unmarried women and then the final swing will be at independent women."

However it's analyzed, Lake says it will still come down to one thing: turnout.

"It's just a question of what margin and how many will turn out," she said. "I think they'll determine who controls the Senate, and this presidential election."

"Their turnout can't be taken for granted, it's proven year after year," Lake said.

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