The 2004 contest is not just between two personalities, two parties or even two ideologies so much as it is between competing messages that will dominate the future of American politics. In today’s public discourse, left-of-center and right-of-center candidates continue to present two competing articulations of messages; however, stark differences remain in their influence of the broad electorate – especially women. As such, rather than focus on the substance and merits of each issue debate, the 2004 Communications Survey of Women in Swing1 States sought to capture the essence of the Right and Left’s thematic arguments and quantify what works and why.
The right-of-center candidate speaks of reform, responsibility-driven solutions to improve the place of government in society. The messages are substantive, but sterile. The left-of-center candidate draws on emotional rebuttals that try to preserve the status quo and emphasize a more activist government. These competing articulations, which were measured on five major issues evident in this campaign, resonate differently among women voters. As was the case in 2000, the Left’s rebuttal statements win big. While issues come and go, the question remains how will these opposingmessages aimed at swing women in political battleground states affect the presidential election?
In 2000 women preferred Democratic presidential candidate Al Gore by 12 percentage points (54% to 42%) while white men preferred Republican George W. Bush by 11 percentage points (53% to 42%). President Bush’s large margin of victory among white males more or less only offset the large ethnic minority advantage of the opposition. Hence, if Bush loses 54 percent of the women’s vote again; in theory, the election would be dead even or too close to call (see figure 1).
Two reasons explain why women hold the balance of power in 2004: 1) swing states matter most in choosing a president (see figure 2); and 2) demographic shifts have resulted in an increase in the real numbers of traditionally democratic groups in swing states. In the case of African American voters, since nearly 90 percent vote Democratic, they are not considered a swing group for purposes of this survey and slide into the Democratic column. White men are traditionally a Republican stronghold. (Nationally, 55 percent of men voted for George W. Bush in 2000). Similarly for the Democratic Party, women have been a supportive voting block, with 54 percent of women voting for Al Gore in 2000. In addition, women turn out to vote at a slightly higher rate than men, thus increasing the Democratic advantage.