This morning “The Diane Rehm Show” on NPR devoted the first hour to “Wooing Women Voters.” Since they didn’t include IWF on the panel, I thought I’d offer a few insights here.
First I’d like to call into question the whole premise of the show. It suggests that all women are “in play” this election — a notion that doesn’t make any sense when you consider that women make up 52 percent of the electorate and are hardly a homogenous voting bloc: married-single, urban-rural, young-old, mothers-childless.
To have a real conversation about “wooing women voters” in 2012, we need to take a closer look at who the women were who voted in 2008. The majority of 2008 female voters were married or widowed (at 66 percent); while 33 percent were single, unmarried living with a partner, or divorced. Married women voted solidly for McCain by a margin of 4 points, with almost 52 percent.
What’s significant is that even though McCain won this largest bloc of female voters by a solid majority he didn’t win the overall female vote. This is because Obama won unmarried women by a margin of 45 points, 72-27 — giving him 56 percent of the total female vote.
If we eliminate strong partisans — Democrats and Republicans — we find that there was a much smaller gender gap among the potential swing voters. Obama won these female swing voters by just 5 points, and McCain won men by 4 points, larger than his overall margin with men.
Ultimately, 62 percent of strong Democrats who voted in 2008 were women — and these extremely partisan, unmarried women, who tend to be more liberal, constitute a huge percentage of the gender gap. And these are the voters the Obama campaign is targeting this election (hence the reason Democrats have made “free” birth control — not food, as the panelists suggested — a focal point of the campaign).
But despite Obama’s strength among women in 2008, the GOP managed to narrowly close the gender gap for the first time in 20 years during the 2010 midterm elections, winning the House vote 51-47 and achieving landslide victories across the country. According to an ABC poll at the time, Republicans gained 12 percent of women who had voted for Obama in 2008.
And this is the reason we are having a conversation about “wooing women voters” at all in 2012.
The only thing the panelists on the show today should have been talking about is single women — more specifically, single, female, partisan Democrats, who remain a critical voting bloc for President Obama.
As I’ve said before, this is his base, and this is the basis for Sandra Fluke, the Life of Julia, and the "war on women" rhetoric.
Contrary to what the Diane Rehm show may think, the “women’s vote” is largely beside the point. When it comes to women, the only thing that matters to the Obama campaign is that female turnout in 2012 look like 2008.
Sabrina L. Schaeffer is executive director of the Independent Women’s Forum and co-author of Liberty is No War on Women.