What women want

A new report suggests that women voters are ready to leave the GOP in droves -- if Democrats can just manage to focus on the family.

By Page Rockwell
Published June 23, 2005 7:01PM (EDT)

As President Bush's ratings have declined, so have the GOP's -- and, as we noted earlier this month, Republicans are losing approval points especially among self-described political independents. This week it looks like another important voting bloc may be defecting from the GOP: women. According to the EMILY's List Women's Monitor report released yesterday, fewer than one-third of female respondents believe the country is moving in the right direction -- and only a third of women who voted for George W. Bush plan to vote for a Republican congressional candidate.

According EMILY's list national political director Karen White, "The gender gap is back, and it's growing." The report shows that, although Democrats are leading Republicans among all voters -- 40 percent of respondents said they'd vote for a Democratic congressional candidate, as opposed to 36 percent who planned to vote for a Republican -- the Dems have an even bigger lead among women. Forty-three percent of female respondents planned to vote for Democrats, versus 32 percent who would vote for GOP candidates. And the report found that the Democrats led among women of all age groups. While women in their late 30s to early 40s only slightly preferred Democratic candidates (Democrats led 40 to 39 percent), Democrats had an 18-point lead among women in their late 40s and early 50s. (Democrats also held an eight-point lead among seniors and women under 35.)

The report also found that Democrats largely maintained their lead from region to region. Female respondents in the Northeast, Midwest and West all preferred Democratic candidates by at least an eight-point margin. In the South, Democrats and Republicans were tied. And Democrats kept their lead among female respondents of all demographic groups, including Midwestern white women, women without college educations, Catholics and self-described moderates.

And, when asked about specific issues, the poll's female respondents sounded like Democrats: Sixty-two percent of respondents said that questions of morality and values should be left up to the individual, not legislated by the government. Sixty-one percent support scientific inquiry in general and stem-cell research in particular, as opposed to 28 percent who said that the country's emphasis on science undermines moral values. Sixty percent said alliances and diplomacy are the best approach to the war on terror, versus 25 percent who said that aggressively hunting down terrorists and defeating them was the way to go. And the female respondents also seem socially conscious: Sixty percent said the government should "advance policies and programs that benefit all Americans rather than one group or class of people," contrasted with 30 percent who preferred an agenda that would benefit the middle class.

But, EMILY's list president Ellen Malcolm said, "While women trust Democrats more on a wide array of issues, we want to caution that the Democrats have not closed the deal yet." The report seems to suggest that, in order to secure the women's vote, Democrats will have to present themselves as the party of family values. When female respondents were asked to identify their top priorities, the importance of family was the big winner, with 39 percent of respondents calling it their biggest concern, followed by 35 percent who chose religious faith. When asked to identify what issue concerned them most when thinking about their children's future, 50 percent said "morality and values," as opposed to only 30 percent who cited economic issues.

And that's the finding that Malcolm wants Democrats to take away. Although "this erosion [of Republican support] offers a tremendous opportunity for Democrats" in the 2006 elections, she said, "Democrats must offer an agenda of change and hope framed in a way that recognizes women's focus on the family and their self-identified role as caregivers." That leaves Democrats with a challenge: how to seem hopeful and family-friendly while keeping up the current effort to skewer Republicans on national security and the war on terror. If Democrats can't manage that balancing act, Malcolm suggests, those Republican defectors will head right back to the GOP.

Page Rockwell

Page Rockwell is Salon's editorial project manager.

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