WASHINGTON -- As women have found themselves in the center of much of 2012's political wrangling -- their bodies a topic for debate, and their hearts and minds a top campaign priority -- many are embracing their status as key voters, according to a poll released Thursday by Lifetime television.
Female voters strongly favor President Barack Obama over GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney, according to the survey, which was conducted by Republican pollster Kellyanne Conway of the polling company, inc./WomanTrend and Democratic pollster Celinda Lake of Lake Research Partners.
"Both parties have women that they can appeal to," Lake said. "Women are the key swing vote and will probably decide the election, but I think women are more self-conscious about the role. I think the really interesting part is that women are poised to take things into their own hands."
Obama received support from 52 percent of likely female voters, compared to 36 percent for Romney. That double-digit lead tracks with Obama's performance in 2008 exit polls, although it's a few points higher than Obama's lead among women in other recent polls.
Half of the women polled said Obama deserved an "A" or "B" for his time in office, while 29 percent gave him a "D" or an "F."
Michelle Obama also fared well, with 72 percent of women viewing her favorably. Ann Romney, who exclaimed "I love you women!" during her Wednesday convention speech, was far less well-known, with 30 percent viewing her favorably, and 45 percent saying they hadn't heard of her or had no opinion. The survey was conducted prior to the speech.
As with the general electorate, women largely gave top priority to the economy and jobs. And although nine out of 10 women said it was important that a candidate understand women, even more prioritized an understanding of the middle class, with 94 percent calling it important.
Many women have been turned off by the campaign's tendency to veer toward issues like abortion, Lake said. "Women want to know, why are we talking about this at all? Why aren't we focusing on the economy?"
Four years after she lost the Democratic primary, Hillary Clinton retains strong support among women voters, with 60 percent of all women saying she should run again. Fifty-eight percent said they would definitely or probably vote for her. A third said she would have done better as president than Obama.
Only 27 percent of women expressed concern that the nation never has had a female president, although a higher number -- 45 percent -- said the United States would be in better shape to face the future with a female leader. Nine in 10 said they would encourage the young women in their life to run for office; 8 percent said they were likely to run themselves.
"There's been a gradual evolution of women as engaged voters ... They're no less skeptical or cynical toward politics, but they're more open to the importance of participating in the process," Conway said. "They're finally realizing that saying, 'I hate politics' means you don't care about education, or wars or the state of health care. Politics is the means to achieve the policy ends about which they care, and you can't win if you don't play."
Asked why female participation in politics remains low, women cited the predominance of men in the field and a desire by women to focus on their own families and lives. Democrats were more likely to believe the current gender imbalance was the main issue, while more Republicans believed women's energy was focused elsewhere.
Most women had faith in their civic power, with only 16 percent saying their votes in elections didn't matter. Their concern for imaginary celebrity matchups was another story. Asked by Lifetime to choose among Meryl Streep, Angelina Jolie, Beyonce, Lady Gaga and Heidi Klum as potential elected officials, a 37 percent plurality said "none of the above," or otherwise refused to answer the question. (Among those willing to entertain the hypothetical, Streep won with 31 percent.)
The Lifetime poll conducted live telephone surveys of 1,003 women, including 808 likely voters, between Aug. 3 and Aug. 11. The margin of error was 3.1 percent.
CORRECTION: This article has been edited to clarify the name of one of the firms.
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