In depicting Sandra Fluke as the perfect Obama Woman yesterday, I left out one salient characteristic: Ms. Fluke is single.
Single women are a key constituency for the president.
A Reuters dispatch reports on the divide between single and married women when it comes to supporting a political candidate:
According to a national Reuters/Ipsos poll of 25- to 45-year-olds, mothers tend to differ from women without children on issues ranging from the economy, taxes and military spending to healthcare and birth control — as well as on presidential candidates.
Childless working women favor Obama over Mitt Romney, the presumed Republican nominee, by a striking 20 points, 46 percent to 26 percent. "Obama has done pretty well, stimulating the economy, getting out of Iraq and investing in healthcare," said Joanna Giddens, 27, who works for a Denver nonprofit and can't afford health insurance.
Working mothers were less likely to favor the president, by 42 percent to 34 percent. Stay-at-home mothers such as Formato, along with unemployed mothers, gave the president only a 5-point margin: 37 percent to 32 percent.
What the groups have in common is that, so far, no more than three out of 10 of the women polled support Romney.
President Obama undoubtedly will carry the women’s vote, but he needs to duplicate his 2008 showing when he carried it by 13 percent. Women made up 53 percent of the electorate that year. Women, historically skewing Democrats, slightly favored the GOP in the 2010 midterms, helping to put a GOP-led House in place.
The president's female support comes most strongly from single women. The cornerstone of President Obama's quest for their votes so far has been the “war on women” rhetoric that seeks to portray Republicans as misogynistic contraception snatchers. Given current econimic realities, however, this may not be as effective as the president hopes.
Indeed, worried about the stagnant economy, many single women seem to be disregarding social issues:
Colorado, where polls show the president with a slight lead, is among a handful of states experiencing the most intense barrage of negative ads. However, a score of women interviewed there over several days said they mute or fast-forward through the vitriol, and few were aware of the controversies over birth control or abortion.
Most were pro-choice on abortion and said all insurance plans should cover contraception, but they viewed these issues as secondary to jobs, education and general healthcare reform.
At Little Monkey Bizness, an indoor children's play area and coffee shop in a strip mall just south of Arapahoe County, [Sarah] Formato and other mothers were chatting or checking email on their laptops. Their offspring painted figures on butcher paper and bounced off inflated slides, shrieking with delight.
It was right out of Norman Rockwell, but it masked a sense of deep anxiety about the country and its politics – even before a man calling himself "the Joker" opened fire on moviegoers in Aurora, the largest city in the county.
"It feels like we're going the wrong way," said Stephanie Braden, a special education teacher who is married to a diesel mechanic. "I don't know how to fix that." She leans toward Romney but is disturbed by his attacks on teachers' unions and his support for vouchers. "I'm not sure I love him," she said. "I have to do more homework."
What this says is that even a teacher, who undoubtedly belongs to a union (she opposes vouchers), may be willing to support Romney. She is open to being persuaded. But Romney is not just running against Barack Obama; he is running against a tide of hopelessness. Single women who are struggling to make ends meet may be especially vulnerable:
Tricia Lancaster, sitting nearby with a rambunctious preschooler, also voted for Obama despite her Republican registration. She regrets it. "I still like the guy as a person," she said. "But I don't know what he's done."
The disappointment is widespread. In Reuters/Ipsos poll, only 23 percent of non-working moms approved of Obama's handling of the presidency. Working moms and childless working women were somewhat more approving, at 26 percent and 29 percent respectively.
So would Lancaster endorse Romney? "I don't know if putting someone else in office would make a difference," she said.
This is the age-old (or at least since the 1980s, when the gender gap was defined) riddle: how can Republicans show single women that, comforting though the prospect of more nanny state programs might be, ultimately prosperity and self-reliance are more likely to bring security and happiness.
The Romney campaign sometimes seems as if it thinks (or thought—reality is sitting in) that Mitt Romney could just stand there and get elected. Women voters such as the ones interviewed in the Reuters story are down, but, unless Romney makes a compelling case for electing him, they are very likely to stick with Barack Obama and the promise of more government programs.
Romney has got to convince them that “free stuff” from the government isn’t free and that a change in policies and a belief in success can restore the country. He doesn't have to make them like him, but he does have to make them think that change is possible. As great as Ann Romney is, she can’t make the sale for him.