It's a known fact that a plurality of women, regardless of their age, self-identify as Democratic voters. Often referred to as the gender gap, this divide has become especially stark over the past two years. According to Karen Tumulty of the Washington Post, just 41 percent of men approve of President Obama, with 55 percent disapproving. However, the same poll shows over 50 percent of women approve of Obama.
What I find most interesting is that Obama's approval rating among women has stayed constant in the past few weeks. I was very surprised by this, but then I'm not a pollster. I find this remarkable given the onslaught of anti-woman policy and sentiment brought on by the right wing. As Gallup reports, overall approval of the president has climbed over the past few weeks, up to 51 percent; however, most of those gains have come from men. Improving job reports and increased consumer spending have no doubt informed Americans' feelings about the president, but it is hard to argue that the birth control debate's domination of the airwaves had nothing to do with it either -- for men.
The war on women is real and the Republicans need to own it, but is it going to impassion busy moms to go out and vote for Obama in November, much less to organize for him as they did in 2008? Are women taking threats against their reproductive choices seriously or writing off this onslaught of attacks as rumblings of the far-right fringe? National Organization for Women president Terry O'Neill said on The Diane Rehm Show, Republicans have "lost women for a generation" by attacking birth control. In truth, I think NOW lost most women before the Republicans did. When was the last time you visited NOW's website?
Republicans have lost women who were old enough to march for reproductive rights, and they've lost younger single women. But I'm not sure that married women in their 20s , 30s and 40s have been moved enough by the contraception debate. Indeed, married women tend to be more traditional swing voters. I won't demean women in my cohort (I'm 35, employed full-time, married with two kids, suburban, Democrat) by giving them a cute name, but I do ask that this valuable group get a special strategy from Democrats in 2012. In my humble opinion, it's complicated, and I'd love to hear your ideas.
1) Women in my cohort see access to birth control as a battle their mothers and grandmothers fought, as an untouchable issue only debated by the farthest right fringe. Gen X women need to know how real the threat to their basic liberty is. In 2010 when Tea Party Republicans and their devotees ran on job creation, then governed on destroying protections for women's health. No less than 1,110 anti-women bills are going through the state legislatures as we speak, a legacy of the 2010 GOP landslide. Republicans on the far right of the spectrum at the state and federal levels have sought to redefine rape, slash funding for education, have spouted positions on birth control popular half a century ago, publicly harassed a woman exercising her right to petition her government, attempted to block middle class tax cuts, stalled jobs bills, and legislated humiliating and medically unnecessary transvaginal ultrasounds for women seeking abortions. These Republicans may not be representative of the party as a whole, but they are the ones dictating the narrative. Now Rush Limbaugh is on the hustings, insisting women want to focus on talking about how the presidential candidates and politicians will create jobs, not worrying about keeping women's legs closed. It's become the right wing mantra that Democrats are "pushing" the narrative of the war on women and women just want to focus on jobs and the economy. And indeed, every email in the past ten days I've received from a Democratically affiliated group highlights the war on women. This is good, keep it up.
2) We're insanely busy. A new Families and Work/Real Simple study shows half of women 25-54 feel they don't have enough free time. I'll never forget the impassioned blog post from an Ohio mom in her 30s to the Obama campaign in 2008: "Hey, I want to help, but stop calling and asking me to come down and volunteer at the Campaign HQ at 8:00 on a school night!" We want to take action for a better world, but we can't bring our kids along to knock doors all day on a Saturday. Check out the incredible response to the Moms Clean Air Force and you'll see that when an issue is presented in a way that we can take action that works with our schedules and results are clear, we'll mobilize.
3) It's about money. Not the economy -- money. Personal finance. Four out of ten families have a female breadwinner, and two thirds of families men and women are equal breadwinners. Women make investment decisions, plan retirements, and of course, worry for their children's future. Visit a site like dailyworth.com and you'll see a community of women who want to talk about money, investing, and getting ahead at work. For Generation X, the "Great Recession" resulted in a lack of advancement at work, including opportunities to increase their salaries and benefits. Unlike heavily unemployed Millennials, Gen Xers are not as concerned about unemployment as how to increase the worth they do have.
Come November, we will see just how badly the GOP has damaged its support among women voters. If nothing else, perhaps a pummeling at the polls will force Republicans to take a hard look at their platform and question just how effective digging up long-settled social issues is to their success.
But I ask my pollster friends, in this maelstrom of attacks from the far right, why has women's approval of Obama stalled? The answer isn't crystal clear. The danger for both the GOP and Democrats will be that women stay home on election day; neither can strike a decisive victory without the support of women voters.