As the countdown to the conventions heats up, every day brings new numbers and polls about the impending election. One of the groups that will be a deciding factor in the selection of the next president, is women… who comprise more than half of the United States electorate. Their hearts and minds are vital to both Presidential aspirants, as their vote has “decided every presidential election since 1968.”
On August 5th, Lifetime Networks announced the result of a “national poll of women likely voters.” As part of its Every Woman Counts campaign, launched in 1992, the non-partisan poll was jointly conducted by well-known pollsters Kellyanne Conway of the polling company ™ inc./WomanTrend (Republican) and Celinda Lake of Lake Research Partners (Democratic). The poll was conducted “via telephone interviews [from] July 25-29, 2008. The sample was 500 women nationwide, with 100 additional African-American women and 100 additional Hispanic women. The margin of error for the main sample was plus/minus 4.4% at a 95% confidence level. In the subgroups, the margin of error was higher.” The poll’s findings targeted a number of topics.
During a press conference call, Meredith Wagner, Executive Vice-President of Public Affairs for Lifetime, spoke about the EWC goal of getting more women to register to vote. She referenced the astonishing numbers of 35 million eligible women who did not exercise their right to cast a ballot in 2004.
Much is being written and discussed about the divisive residue of the Democratic primary, and how it will affect the convention and the issue of party unity. It should be noted that 76% of the women who voted for Hillary in the primary are now supporting Obama, and 18% said they will vote for McCain. Celinda Lake, speaking about those numbers during the conference call said, “Some of that may change actually, when they see the convention, [and] see Hillary campaigning for Obama.”
On the question of why Clinton “didn’t win the Democratic nomination,” 34% believed she lost “because of the kind of campaign she ran”; 31% responded “because of who she is and what she stands for”; and 21% said it was “because she is a woman.” Her peer group (55-64) was “more likely to feel her general aspect and her attitude [were] at the heart of her loss.”
Despite women putting Clinton’s second place finish on her shoulders, her positive impact on the landscape of women in politics cannot be ignored or denied. 69% of those polled “think her participation in the race will help women who want to run for the Presidency in the near future.” 44% of women believe the country will see a woman in the White House within eight years (with 3 out of ten believing that person will be Hillary).
The concept that women are driven to choose a ticket influenced by gender, was disputed by the questions on the importance of a female Vice-President being selected. The running mate spot being awarded to a woman did not matter to the majority of women voters polled. For 55% of women voters, Obama’s pick of a woman made no difference; 62% felt the same way in relation to McCain.
Focusing in on the presumptive nominees, the poll’s findings stated that 49% of women said they were supporting Obama; 38% said they were supporting McCain; 10% were undecided. It is clear that those women’s votes will take on enormous import.
The sample was asked to relate to the two candidates in terms of “impressions.” Regarding Obama, 53% held mostly positive views; 28% held mostly negative views; 14% held neutral or mixed views. When broken down, Obama scored 35% on his personal attributes (i.e., intelligence, honesty); 19% on his new ideas and [the] representation of change; 19% on his general stance on issues. On the negative side, 27% felt he lacked the experience and qualifications to be president; 19% disliked his position on specific issues (i.e., abortion, national security); 18% disliked his positions more “generally”; 16% responded negatively to his campaign style, and changing positions on the issues.
McCain garnered a favorable impression from 37% of women polled; 31% unfavorable; 20% had mixed or neutral impressions explaining, “they needed more information to form a decision.” In the favorable group, 27% believed that McCain had the right qualifications (i.e., experience); 23% cited his positive personal characteristics; and 20% referenced his stances on the issues. 28% of the unfavorable views cited his “alignment with the Bush administration at; 24% pointed to personal attributes (i.e., age); 21% pointed to his position on specific issues (i.e., the war in Iraq); 18% didn’t like his political affiliation.
When asked which candidate they trusted more, the results favored Obama at 42%, leading McCain at 32%. 14% of women said they trusted neither, and 5% said they trusted both. Obama led with African-Americans (85%) and Hispanics (52%); McCain with white women (41% to Obama’s 31%). The independent and undecided voters were more likely to say they didn’t trust either candidate.
Single mothers identified most with Obama (perhaps because of his own personal history). 54% of Hispanic women and 46% of white women agreed that Obama understands women better. Obama won every age group except senior women (65+), where McCain found a strong pocket of support, leading by 9 points.
81% of both Democratic and Republican voters are voting for their party’s presumptive nominee. Independent voters weighed in with 42% for Obama, 30% for McCain, and 20% undecided. That percentile of women voters will be hotly contested by both Democrats and Republicans, as each candidate seeks to secure a majority.
Despite the strong concern that women have about abortion, on either side of the issue, the EWC data reflects that the most important “factor driving the women’s vote is the economy.” 41% confirmed that jobs and the economy were the top priority; 24% said the war in Iraq; 23% said healthcare and prescription drugs; 17% said education. The economy was the number one concern for every demographic group, leading other concerns by 20 points.
Lake commented on the conference call, “The women’s vote is Obama’s to consolidate.” When I contacted her in a follow-up by telephone, she explained that Obama’s strength at the time of the poll with independent voters was “a precursor” to how he would do post-convention. She reiterated the positive effect that seeing both Clintons campaigning for Obama would have on previous Hillary supporters.
Perhaps the most telling information she imparted was in response to my disbelief about the staggering numbers of women who don’t vote. I asked if her polling had uncovered an explanation for this. Lake told me that the consensus among non-voters boiled down to a simple statement, “The candidates don’t say anything relevant to my life.”
Hopefully in 2008 those women will be able to hear, beyond the campaign rhetoric, a message that speaks to them.