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Election Focus 2004

Women Voters in the 2004 Election

An eligible woman voter is more likely to cast a ballot in the next presidential election than her male counterpart if a pattern identified in the 2000 election continues. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 61 percent of eligible women voters cast a ballot in the 2000 presidential election. That level of participation is higher than the 58 percent of eligible males who voted.

The "gender gap"

In the 1960s American women were more likely to identify with the Republican Party than the Democratic Party. Richard Nixon narrowly carried the women's vote in 1960 after the first televised debate against Kennedy. Political analyst Rachel Alexander concluded that for the first time voters evaluated a presidential candidate's performance on television, which influenced how voters cast their ballots. By the 1980 election between Reagan and Carter, this partiality toward the Republican Party had changed. Carter won the women's vote.

The Gallup Organization, a major independent polling firm, concludes that in every presidential election since 1980 a gender gap has existed. Women have more often supported Democratic candidates while men have more often supported Republican candidates. In presidential elections the gap has ranged from 4 percent to 11 percent. In 1992 women voters supported Clinton in larger numbers than men by 4 percent. In the 2000 election, Al Gore won the women's vote by 11 percent.

Recent Gallup polls report that Republican incumbent President George W. Bush has received higher job approval ratings from men than from women in all but three polls conducted since he took office more than three years ago. In 2004, men have given Bush a job approval rating that is seven points higher than women have given him. Ballot tests this year also show that Bush receives greater support in his bid for re-election among men than among women, according to the Gallup Organization.

"Security moms"

On the other hand, women support the war on terrorism and military spending at the same level as men, according to recent polls. Some political analysts attribute the narrowed gender gap to the September 11 terrorist attacks. They suggest that women who have been reticent to support the use of military force now view it as essential for the protection of their families and communities. Women's support for higher defense budgets increased to 47 percent in October 2001 from 24 percent earlier in the year. The swing voters referred to as "soccer moms" of 2000 may be replaced with "security moms" in 2004.

According to the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press, women's support for military spending remains at levels much higher now. "There is no gender gap on this point, because people are united behind the president," says Linda Divall, a Republican pollster.

The Single Vote

An important disparity exists between married women voters and unmarried women voters. Women of voting age who have never been married, divorced or widowed comprise 42 percent of all registered women voters. In the 2000 presidential election, unmarried women voters represented the same percentage of the electorate as Jewish, African American, and Latino voters combined. For this group, the highest priority issues are health care, employment, education, job security, and retirement benefits. Over 21 million unmarried women voters never cast a ballot on election day, according to data from Women's Voices. Women Vote, a nonprofit organization dedicated to increasing women's voter registration.

"We have to help these women understand they can absolutely determine the outcome of the election," says Christina Desser, co-founder of the organization.

In the 2002 mid-term elections, 56 percent of married women voted for Republican Party candidates, compared to 39 percent of unmarried women. Harvard University assistant professor of public policy Anna Greenberg associates "moral traditionalism" that appeals to married women with the Republican Party.

Campaigning for the Women's Vote

Women's concerns will be important topics of debate on the campaign trail this election season. The Republican National Committee has launched a program called Winning Women, designed to recruit and train female Republican candidates for public office and to reach out to female voters. The Democratic National Committee has created the DNC Women's Vote Center that educates and mobilizes women voters about electing Democratic candidates for public office.

Both Massachusetts Senator John Kerry and President Bush have emphasized issues that resonate with women — job creation, healthcare and education — in recent campaign speeches. First Lady Laura Bush features prominently in her husband's re-election advertisements. Kerry's daughters, Alexandra and Vanessa, promote their father's concerns with jobs and the environment on the campaign trail.

"The women's vote will decide the next election, as it has since 1980," stated political psychologist Dr. Martha Burke. "Candidates have an opportunity to showcase their views on the issues women care most about — violence, the pay gap, education, and economic security. Those who address women's concerns directly are likely to strike a chord."