It's All Politics
Tue September 4, 2012
It's No Secret: Democrats Look To Women For Votes
He may not declare out loud, like Ann Romney, that he loves women. But President Obama certainly needs them.
Obama's slight lead in national polls is almost entirely attributable to his support among women. It's an advantage Democrats intend to press throughout their convention this week in Charlotte, N.C.
"I can't understand why any woman would want to vote for Mitt Romney, except maybe Mrs. Romney," Madeleine Albright, a former secretary of state under Bill Clinton, told The Huffington Post on Monday.
First lady Michelle Obama is scheduled to speak Tuesday in support of her husband's re-election bid, but Democratic differences with the GOP platform on issues such as abortion and birth control will be highlighted by other speakers — notably Sandra Fluke.
Fluke, who will speak Wednesday, became widely known as a Georgetown University law student after talk show host Rush Limbaugh called her a "slut" in February following her testimony before House Democrats in favor of contraceptive coverage.
"Really, what's going on is that Democrats have to win the women's vote by a large percentage to overcome their disadvantage among men," says Lara Brown, a Villanova University political scientist.
Democrats have not carried a majority of male voters in three decades, Brown says. As a result, she notes, Republicans triumph when they win among women — or at least come close.
George W. Bush was re-elected in 2004 in part because he carried 48 percent of the women's vote, according to exit polling. House Republicans managed to carry 49 percent of women as they made historic gains in 2010.
With Republicans in Congress and in the states pushing for more restrictions on abortion and even birth control this year, Democrats have spotted an opening. They believe that opening could widen into a large gender gap, following the roundly criticized comments of GOP Rep. Todd Akin, a Senate candidate in Missouri who said last month that women typically won't get pregnant as a result of "legitimate rape."
"Voters are smart enough not to associate Mitt Romney with Akin's position on so-called legitimate rape," says Matthew Eshbaugh-Soha, a University of North Texas political scientist. "But it reinforces the general impression that Republicans are out of touch on women's issues."
Republicans say the Democrats' hammering at abortion and birth control amounts to a sideshow in an election that will ultimately be decided on other issues.
Women are not monolithic in their preferences, says Republican pollster Ed Goeas, who notes that Obama's support among women is strongest among ethnic minorities — groups he's widely expected to carry as a whole. The president enjoys only a slight advantage among unmarried white women, while Romney is actually ahead among married white women, according to Goeas' latest numbers.
"For the overwhelming majority of the women voting in our direction, the focus is on spending, the economy, jobs — the same as everyone else," Goeas says.
Republican positions on so-called women's issues are among the main ones Democrats feel are working in their favor at this point. Still, it remains to be seen how many voters the appearance of symbolically charged figures such as Fluke will bring into Obama's camp.
"I haven't seen any good evidence that women, or certain subgroups of women, are moving toward the Obama ticket over time or are becoming more enthusiastic about the Obama ticket," says John Sides, a George Washington University political scientist.
"And even if they were," Sides continues, "could we attribute that to messaging about women's health? Not with any degree of certainty."