October 18 2012
by: Frank Miniter
Just before the second presidential debate on October 16th, polls showed President Barack Obama’s 18-point so called “women’s vote” advantage had plummeted to a tie with Mitt Romney. Then, during the second debate, a question on the equality of women in the workplace was asked and both candidates sparred over “women’s issues” for almost 8 minutes. This is a fight the Obama team chose by saying Republicans are at “war with women.” So then, why did Obama’s advantage with women collapse? Will Obama’s continued use of the catchphrase “War on Women” reverse the trend?
Interviews and statistical evidence present some surprising answers, but before digging into the reasons, we need some context. First of all, a nationwide Pew Research Center Poll in mid-September had Obama with an 18-point lead with women. This same poll taken after the first debate had Obama and Romney tied among women voters at 47 percent. Meanwhile, a Gallup poll conducted after the first debate found that Romney had pulled to within one point of Obama with women who’re likely to vote (48-49 percent).
This has Democrats nervous. They know Obama must win the women’s vote by a sizable margin to secure a second term. The numbers bear this out. In 2008 Obama beat McCain in the national women’s vote by 13 points. But in 2010, when Republicans seized control of the U.S. House of Representatives, Democrats lost support of women by a point. This was the first time in decades the Democrats didn’t carry the women’s vote nationally.
If they don’t regain a higher percentage of the women’s vote, they can’t win. For example, in the 2004 presidential election 52 percent of women voted for John Kerry, whereas in the 2000 election 53 percent of women voted for Al Gore, but both lost to their Republican rival.
So, using the previous two presidential contests as indicators, Obama seems to need at least 53 percent of the women’s vote to win. However, he might win with less. Just consider that, according to Census Bureau figures, in the 2010 midterm elections 42.7 percent of eligible women voters cast ballots, whereas just 40.9 percent of men voted. Also, while historically unmarried women are statistically more likely to vote for Democrats than married women, the number of unmarried women has now surpassed the numbered of married women—as of August 2011 the U.S. Census Bureau says 51.1 percent of women (18 years old and older) were not married. Democrats like this shift in demographics because, according to The Voter Participation Center (VPC), a Democratic-leaning nonprofit focused on increasing the voting participation of unmarried women, 61 percent of unmarried women who voted in 2010 cast ballots for Democrats.
Wooing these women has long been a strategy from the Obama administration. It’s why the White House presented the “Life of Julia,” a cartoon boasting cradle-to-grave entitlements for a fictional woman. It’s why they began using the catchphrase “War on Women” and trotted out a 31-year-old Georgetown Law School student named Sandra Fluke who wants taxpayers to pay for her birth-control pills. And it’s why, on January 20, 2012, Health and Human Services’ Secretary Kathleen Sebelius announced a mandate requiring all health plans provide coverage for contraceptives approved by the FDA—a mandate Catholics and other religious groups are fighting because it tramples on the freedom of religion protected by the First Amendment.
Those are the statistics and trends. Now here are three reasons why some women have changed their minds about Obama.
1. Weakness Abroad
To understand what’s going on with the women’s vote, I contacted a 23-year-old named Irina. She’s a recent college graduate who voted for Obama in 2008 but says she’s voting for Romney on November 6. She appears in a Web video titled “Absolutely Uncertain: Obama and the Threat to Israel”. RightChange.com, a conservative group that defines itself as an organization that “engages Americans through informed, fact-based content delivered in a creative format”, paid for the video. The video has had over 2 million hits on YouTube already.
With clips from politicians—both Democrats and Republicans—officials from Israel and from the White House, the video cuts through all the noise and says please, please stop a moment and see what’s happening; a friend’s life is being threatened by someone known to be dangerous, by someone loading a gun, and we’re dithering.
Irina begins the video by saying, “I don’t know how many people realize this, but today, as we speak, Israelis are lining up for gas masks….”
She says, “I’m speaking out because I would listen to me. Because not enough people my age are paying attention. Most of my girlfriends only have superficial opinions about this presidential election. I get that because that’s what I did in 2008. But now more of us need to pay attention.”
Irina has visited Israel four times. She met her husband there. She has been closely watching Obama’s treatment of Israeli leadership and the events in the Middle East. She says, “I’m not confident President Obama stands with Israel at this critical time. Obama just doesn’t make me feel safe. I have the impression he isn’t strong enough to dissuade Iran from getting a nuclear bomb. I also feel we need someone who is strong so we can avoid more war.”
Irina says, “Look, I’m not a political activist. I didn’t seek out the role in the video. They found me by networking and I agreed to do it because I’m really concerned.”
She says she watches politics, but not “too much.” She’s says, “I consider myself pretty Liberal. I proudly voted for Obama in 2008. But today I’ve changed my mind. I’m watching the Middle East burn and I fear the flames will make it to Israel.”
She came to this conclusion before the first presidential debate, but she watched the debate and ended up feeling even more “comfortable with Romney.” Her reason is Obama’s treatment of Israel and his seeming inability to push back Iran or even to protect an American ambassador on the sovereign ground of an embassy in Libya. She says, “Given the way Obama has behaved since the attack in Libya, why would I think he would protect Israel or even Americans abroad?”
2. The Economy
Sabrina Schaeffer, executive director of the Independent Women’s Forum, a conservative group, bristles at the idea that women are a voting bloc. She says, “That doesn’t make any sense when you consider that women make up 52 percent of the electorate and are hardly a homogenous voting bloc. They’re married-single, urban-rural, young-old, mothers-childless….”
Schaeffer also finds the so-called “War on Women” to be patronizing. She says, “The Obama campaign is betting they can goose turnout on November 6 for Democrats by claiming the Republicans are waging a ‘War on Women.’ A central part of this claim is that Republicans tend to oppose the Paycheck Fairness Act (PFA), a bill the Left claims will ensure equal pay for men and women. However, the reality is that this kind of labor regulation will likely hamper the job market for women of all political stripes—unless, of course, they are trial lawyers. By expanding the definition of ‘wage discrimination,’ by making it easier to file class-action lawsuits, and by opening businesses to greater litigation and uncertainty, this legislation would harm men and women.”
She points out that research conducted for Independent Women’s Voice found that, while the “War on Women” mantra might please liberal Democrats, it actually turns off independents. Unlike standard polls, which ask people if they find an argument convincing, the Independent Women’s Voice did a controlled-message experiment. They surveyed only independents and “weak partisans.”
Schaeffer says, “We found that 74 percent of women agree at least somewhat that workplace discrimination is a serious problem; however, this doesn’t necessarily mean they want more government regulation. Respondents exposed to the Democratic argument alone strongly favor the PFA (45 percent). But support for the bill drops 35-points to a 10 percent when economic issues are also addressed.”
Schaeffer thinks most voters are focused on the real problems our nation is facing. First among these are pocketbook issues—national debt, spending, taxes and jobs. She says, “What the alleged ‘War on Women’ narrative reveals is that the Left demonizes anyone who questions government. This is how they perpetuate the myth of women as victims in need of government protection. However, it turns out that pitting men and women against each other is neither smart policy nor smart politics. Voters don’t want more gender wars or government regulation. They want an economy that works.”
3. Steadfast Leadership
Anne Sorock, the founder of a marketing nonprofit called The Frontier Lab, feels some women who voted for Obama in 2008 won’t vote for him in 2012 because “Obama has relied in the past on a sort of polish and glamour that doesn’t stand up under scrutiny.”
Sorock’s central point is that Obama isn’t the leader he appeared to be. She says, “Women are seeking a capable and prepared leader, instead Obama has been fumbling and aloof. He needs to take responsibility—and he hasn’t. Benghazi revealed that Obama tends to put his personal reputation ahead of the safety and security of those the government must protect.”
Aside from not turning out to be someone who accepts responsibility, Sorrock says, “My research indicates women are less concerned with the minutiae of policies than with the macro-level path we’re pursuing. They are thinking long-term. They want a person who will keep the promise of the American dream alive for their children. They want a president who will keep them safe and be honest about the path we’re on. Meanwhile, Obama is busy building his monuments, making excuses and avoiding responsibility.”
Sorock also notes that, after months of the Obama campaign demonizing Romney, women who are independents saw Romney on the stage in the first debate and thought he seemed like a stand-up guy, not the guy Obama says he is.
Democratic pollster Celinda Lake said as much to USA Today: “In every poll,” she said, “we’ve seen a major surge among women in favorability for Romney. Women went into the debate actively disliking Romney, and they came out thinking he might understand their lives and might be able to get something done for them.”
Ann Romney’s media appearances and the many policy issues separating the two candidates are also affecting the polls, but pollsters are also talking about “enthusiasm.” Republicans have been saying they’re more enthusiastic about voting than Democrats in this election; in fact, the percentage of women registered voters who are “extremely enthusiastic” about voting has doubled since June, reports Gallup. The USA Today said, “Women, who consistently had lagged men, are now more engaged: 41% of women and 35% of men report being extremely enthusiastic. Among women, more Romney supporters are extremely enthusiastic than Obama supporters, 46% versus 38%.”