August 14 2008

IWF in the News: Female voters heed character issue

Hard to believe that nearly a year ago readers of Ladies' Home Journal ranked former Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards and his wife, Elizabeth, as the happiest of all the couples on the 2008 campaign trail.

In light of Mr. Edwards' clumsy admission to an extramarital affair with a campaign worker, the magazine's editors have re-released the survey from October. It shows that 35 percent of female respondents, regardless of party affiliation, said their opinion of the happiness of a presidential candidate's marriage will influence their vote.

Women tend to look "not just at [the candidate's] policies but at what kind of person they seem to be," said Robbie Caploe, executive editor of Ladies' Home Journal. But "perceptions are not always reality."

Among those answering the survey, "the largest percentage of women feel that Elizabeth and John Edwards (67 percent) and Michelle and Barack Obama (66 percent) have a happy marriage. About one-half mentioned Cindy and John McCain (52 percent)."

Only 33 percent felt that Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton and former President Bill Clinton have a happy marriage.

The Ladies' Home Journal survey is just one window into how important a candidate's character is to female voters, who comprise the largest voting bloc in the country.

However, the matrimonial state of the presumptive presidential nominees, Republican John McCain and Democrat Mr. Obama, is hardly the most influential factor at this juncture.

Michelle Bernard, president and chief executive officer of the Independent Women's Forum, said women's concerns have shifted from national security and the war in the past two years.

"They are overwhelmingly concerned about pocketbook issues," she said of the 2008 presidential election, which she predicts will be decided by centrists and independent voters.

Billie - the owner of a women's boutique in a seaside resort in North Carolina - fits the demographic profile that presidential candidates covet: a white, middle-age, middle-class, independent voter.

She hasn't made up her mind about who will get her vote in the fall. She said she is tuning out politics, like some of her customers, because of the partisan bickering. She views most politicians as caring more about themselves and advancing their parties than about their constituents.

"Women are multifaceted and care about domestic and foreign issues like trade," said Billie, who asked that her last name not be used. That includes "the stay-at-home mom, who cares about lead in her child's toys that come from foreign countries, to the small-business owner, like me, who cares that the dollar is so devalued in foreign markets that it affects your bottom line."

ABC News reported that a poll released in July by the liberal Women's Voices Women Vote Action Fund showed that "single, divorced, separated and widowed women voters in 14 battleground states favor" Mr. Obama over Mr. McCain, 61 percent to 29 percent.

In addition, an ABC poll in July showed that Mr. Obama held a 52 percent to 43 percent lead among married women - "one of the most moveable swing voter groups, which could bode well for McCain."

Last week, Lifetime Television for Women released the results of a national poll of female likely voters as part of its "Every Woman Counts" campaign, a nonpartisan effort to engage women in politics.

Conducted by Republican pollster Kellyanne Conway and Democratic pollster Celinda Lake, the survey indicates that "economic worries continue to dominate the issues driving women to the polls; and shows that putting a woman on the ticket matters little to women voters."

According to the survey, neither Mr. Obama nor Mr. McCain "has secured a clear majority of women, who have decided every presidential election since 1968." Forty-nine percent of respondents favored Mr. Obama and 38 percent favored Mr. McCain, with 6 percent saying they were leaning toward a candidate.

"With 90 days to go until Election Day, 10 percent of women are firmly undecided, indicating either candidate has a shot at becoming the next president," the pollsters said in their summary of the survey's results.

Female voters, like others, are going to vote for the candidate whose agenda is more reflective of the policies that best serve their interests as they juggle the varied personal and professional responsibilities in their daily lives.

Yet as Ms. Caploe said, "it's fascinating to see how snapshots of a one-time thing can turn on a dime."

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