Along with The Note, the Hotline, and other daily supplements for political junkies, I get an e-mail report every morning from WomenseNews.org. It’s an impressive production.?The daily commentaries are short, snappy, and easy to read. They provide a sense of what women on the left are thinking about politics.
Throughout the 2004 election, Women’s eNews provided commentary on a variety of campaign-related issues. There were earnest attempts to shift the media’s focus to issues that the editors and commentators felt women should be concerned about. There were testimonials to the power of women’s vote, to singles as a consequential voting bloc. Women’s eNews raised questions about the security moms.
There were stories about the gender and wage gaps. The threat that a reelected George W. Bush would pose to Roe v. Wade was a staple of the commentary. Although generally left-leaning, Women’s eNews political commentary occasionally acknowledges that women of other political persuasions exist (especially if they support abortion). An end of the political season wrap-up quoted IWF’s President Nancy Pfotenhauer on what went wrong for the Democrats.
Typical of the election-season commentaries was one by Sheila Gibbons, a WeNews commentator, who argued in late September that “campaign coverage ignored women’s concerns.” She used as her guide to issues that the media should have been covering a list from the National Council of Women’s Organizations. On their roster were “punching through the glass ceiling…, attaining pay equity, having access to quality child care and paid family leave, eliminating all forms of discrimination and violence against women, obtaining health care,…protecting reproductive rights, and being assured of Social Security benefits.”
There are two problems here. First, there isn’t any polling evidence I’m aware of that indicates that issues like the glass ceiling or pay equity or quality child care or domestic violence were uppermost in the minds of women who voted or those who stayed home. Even if the candidates had talked about them, it is hard to imagine them trumping the big issues in this election: concerns about the economy, terrorism, and the war in Iraq. And second, neither John Kerry nor George W. Bush ignored women’s concerns. The big issues were of deep concern to men and women.
For more than 50 years, the Gallup Organization has asked people a very simple question. “What is the most important problem facing the country today?” People volunteer any answer they want. It’s one of the most valuable questions in the polling literature because it doesn’t force people to choose from responses devised by the pollsters. In Gallup’s October 11-14 poll, the top issues were the war in Iraq, cited by 23 percent, followed by the economy in general (21 percent), terrorism (16 percent), health care (13 percent), and unemployment/jobs (12 percent).
Gallup recorded more than two dozen other mentions, but none of them was volunteered by even 7 percent of those surveyed. Three percent in the mid-October poll volunteered Medicare/Social Security and 1 percent abortion. The issues identified in October were very much like those in September, August, July and so on. These were the top concerns of voters. In October and the earlier months, issues such as pay equity, child care access, paid family leave, discrimination and violence weren’t mentioned by even 1 percent of those surveyed.
Still, men and women voted differently in this election, as they have in all elections since 1980, and something must be driving those differences. In 2003, Lydia Saad, Gallup’s very able senior editor, took a comprehensive look at big issues facing the society to see if women and men had distinctively different outlooks on them.She examined 28 consequential issues including such important ones as “the nation’s efforts to deal with poverty and homelessness,” “the position of blacks and other minorities in the nation,” “the quality of medical care,” “the nation’s military strength and preparedness,” “the quality of the environment,” and “the Social Security and Medicare systems.”
Women and men reported equal levels of satisfaction or dissatisfaction with most of them. Only one of the 28 issues produced a gap between women and men of more than 10 percentage points and that issue was the nation’s “moral and ethical climate.” Forty-five percent of men were satisfied with it, but only a third of women were.
On the Election Day exit poll ballot, voters at key precincts from around the country were asked to check off from a list the issue that mattered most to them. Women slightly outnumbered men among the voters who selected the economy/jobs and Iraq. Men were a slightly larger share than women among those who selected “taxes.” Fifty-four percent of those who checked terrorism were men and 46 percent, women.?Health care and education drew more women than men. The top concern for all voters in this election was “moral values.” It barely edged out economy/jobs. As Gallup’s exercise above suggests, women were more concerned about it than men. Of those who selected it as their top issue, 43 percent were men, and 57 percent women.
In 2004, women voted for Kerry by a small margin and men for Bush by a larger one. Marrieds voted for Bush, singles for Kerry. The marriage gap was larger than the gender gap, as it has been in all elections since pollsters started tracking it. Men and women bring different views to the polling booth, but at least in this election, issues such as pay equity, violence against women, and the glass ceiling didn’t drive women’s votes.
What would have happened if the candidates had spoken about them more? A poll of 1,000 registered voters conducted by Lake Snell Perry on November 1-2 and released on the 9th found that voters 49 percent thought the candidates hadn’t talked enough about the prevention of violence against women and separately, women’s equality under the law. Forty-six percent said they hadn’t talked enough about appointing women to leadership positions. But there are many other issues (think crime, the high price of gasoline, moral values to name just three) the surveyors could have asked about that would likely have produced similar results.
When asked what the next president’s priorities should be, 61 percent put health care at “10,” meaning a very high top priority followed by education (57 percent), the economy and jobs (55 percent), and 52 percent the well-being of the next generation. The women’s issues above that many felt the candidates hadn’t addressed sufficiently ranked lower. This isn’t to say they aren’t important. They are, but they need to be put in proper perspective, not hyped to fit an agenda.