You know it’s a tight election when the incumbent party is focused entirely on goosing turnout among its base. And that’s exactly what Democrats are doing this year through their so-called “War on Women” campaign.

For the past two decades, there’s been a significant gender gap, in which women voters favor Democrats. In 2010, however, Republicans managed to narrow this gender divide for the first time since the early 1980s, helping them win landslide victories across the country.  That’s when the War on Women mantra became part of the conversation.


The War on Women became a way for Democrats to demonize anyone who questioned the need for cradle-to-grave government “protection” of women. While the rhetoric is often tied to objections to the HHS contraception mandate and subsidies for birth control, it’s really a way of muzzling anyone who wants to see government reined in to its constitutionally limited bounds.

The claim that one political party is openly hostile to more than 50 percent of the electorate should strike a reasonable person as absurd. You don’t have to be a political scientist to know that women – single-married, rural-urban, young-old, mothers-childless – are not a homogenous voting bloc. Still the Obama campaign has made women a focal point of the election, and the question is will this rhetoric actually drive more women to vote for him? Is his War on Women storyline going to capture women in the middle – or, even go as far as to sway weak Republican women?

In the absence of knowing exactly what the 2012 voting populace will look like or the vote split, it’s helpful to take a closer look at the 2008 voting population and consider what that tells us about this November’s election.

I was recently alerted to the Cooperative Congressional Election Study – a more than 30,000 person national sample survey conducted by YouGov Polimetrix – that gives us some very useful (and public) data, which I took a look at (along with Adam Schaeffer, close relation.)

So who were the women who turned out in 2008 when Obama won a substantial victory over Sen. John McCain? The majority of 2008 female voters were married or widowed (66 percent); while 33 percent were single, unmarried living with a partner, or divorced.

More importantly, what does this mean? How did the female vote break down? Not surprisingly, married women voted solidly for McCain by a margin of 4-points, with almost 52 percent. But while Sen. McCain won this largest bloc of female voters by a solid majority, he didn’t win the overall female vote. Obama won unmarried women 72-27 percent – a margin of 45-points – giving him 56 percent of the total female vote.

Finally, while in 2008 women dominated the electorate by 8-points (54-46), they were a much smaller share of swing voters than many pundits would have you believe.  When you eliminate strong partisans on both sides of the aisle from the equation, that difference shrinks to just under 1-point (50-49).  As a result, men and women are about an equal share of the potential “swing electorate,” which is the audience that campaigns aim at persuading.

What becomes clear from this data is that single women remain the critical voting bloc for President Obama. This is his base and this is the basis for the War on Women rhetoric.

Democrats are not parading Sandra Fluke around in an effort to convince all women – or even moderate women – that Republicans are trying to take away their birth control. Research conducted by Evolving Strategies in June already showed that the War on Women language backfired with independents and weak partisans. Rather the basis for this hideous War on Women theme is simply to increase turnout of the Democratic base.  Sixty-two percent of strong Democrats are women, and these are the voters the Obama campaign is targeting.

Which is just to say that the “women’s vote,” per se, is beside the point. It turns out Democrats are expending a whole lot of political capital simply to shore up a core constituency.

In the end, the War on Women campaign is a despicable use of identity politics and fear-mongering that should embarrass any respectable partisan.  And single women—the target of this campaign—should consider what this message, and this pandering, says about those who are trying to appeal to them.  Do single women really want their elected representatives to see them as entirely dependent on government, needing Uncle Sam’s assistance at every step of their lives, as depicted in the infamous Julia cartoon?  Politics aside, it’s a vision of women that anyone who believes in true equality and independence should reject.

Sabrina L. Schaeffer is executive director of the Independent Women’s Forum and co-author of Liberty is No War on Women