This is part of a series running throughout September looking at Ohio’s key role in the upcoming election. Since the beginning of the month, we’ve had stories looking at how the presidential race is shaping up across the state including in southwest Ohio. We’ve also taken a look at the minority vote and today’s we’re looking the gender gap. Look for stories in the coming days on the veteran vote. Next Sunday, we will take a look at young voters - a crucial group that both sides are trying to appeal to.
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If President Barack Obama is re-elected in November, a big reason will be his support among women, according to recent Ohio and national polls.
Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney is trailing Obama with women, while staying roughly even the president among men. Ironically, both men and women list the economy as the issue most important to them.
Both campaigns know the statistics that make women key to winning.
“There are more women voters than there are men voters and women tend to turn out more than men,” said Eric Rademacher, co-director of the University of Cincinnati Institute for Policy Research., who conducted the new Ohio Newspaper Poll released today.
The Ohio Newspaper Poll of 861 likely voters in Ohio found women favor Obama and Vice President Joe Biden by 10 points over Romney and his running mate, Wisconsin U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan. The poll was commissioned by the Dayton Daily News and seven other state papers.
Nationally, Obama has a 19-point lead among women registered voters in a Pew Research Center poll released on Wednesday.
“I think the gender gap is one of the substantial factors in American elections,” said Michael Dimock, associate director of the Pew Research Center, a think tank in Washington, D.C. “There is a substantive difference on average between men and women.”
Exacerbating the divide are the political controversies earlier this year over women’s health care, including access to contraceptives and abortion.
Those controversies “reinforce what is already there,” said Larry J. Sabato, director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia.
“Women and men approach politics differently because of their social and economic status and personal orientation,” he said.“Women have lower incomes and are often raising children alone. Their personal status and situation has a big impact on their vote.”
So while experts say women care just as much about jobs and a successful economy as men, they tend to be more concerned about what government can do on issues such as affordable health care, education and other social services.
“These are the issues largely championed by the Democratic Party,” said Nancy Martorano Miller, associate professor of political science at the University of Dayton.
Polls find women tend to see a bigger role for government than men, said Peter Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute.
“I think women have a better sense of social justice and that ‘we are all in this together,’” said Paul Leonard, adjunct professor of political science at Wright State University and a former mayor of Dayton and Democratic Ohio lieutenant governor. “Men are more akin to the position that you’ve got to make it on your own, you can’t look for help from society and you sure as heck can’t look for help from the government.”
Polls also show a marriage gap
Pollsters and political scientists are careful to point out that women are not a monolithic voting block, and Sabato notes that a minimum of 40 percent of women vote Republican and a minimum of 40 percent of men vote Democratic.
“Women are equally diverse in their views as men and equally cross-pressured by a lot of issues,” Dimock said. “(For example) most Americans tell us they want a smaller government right now, but they also feel it’s important for government to provide a basic safety net for people who have fallen on hard times.”
But the gender gap has been evident since the 1980 presidential election when Republican Ronald Reagan defeated Democrat Jimmy Carter. That gap matters greatly in winning elections, said Rademacher.
Multiple polls this year show Romney struggling to appeal to women voters, although he does well with men and holds a distinct advantage among married people.
* Romney has a single point advantage with men in the Ohio Newspaper poll, with Romney garnering 49 percent to Obama’s 48 percent.
* The Pew Research Center’s poll of 2,424 registered voters released on Wednesday found women favoring Obama 56 percent to 37 percent for Romney nationwide. Men favored Romney 47 percent to Obama’s 46 percent.
* A Sept. 14 Gallup Poll found a marriage gap as well, with 54 percent of married registered voters supporting Romney compared to 39 percent for Obama. The results are nearly reversed among single voters, with 56 percent supporting Obama and 35 percent Romney.
“The gap is not a gender gap, it is a marriage/gender gap,” said Peter Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute, which in July released a poll showing a 13 point advantage for Romney among married people and 7 point lead among married women.
That poll found 60 percent of single women supported Obama.
“Married women are for Romney, but not by nearly as much as single women are for Obama,” said Brown. “Single men are for Obama but not nearly as much as married men are for Romney.”
Pollsters aren’t sure exactly what is at work with the marriage gap, but they note that singles tend to make less money and married people tend to be older, which may influence their voting habits.
Women getting a lot of attention from both sides
Both campaigns are actively reaching out to women, although in a tight race with few voters remaining undecided, it remains to be seen how effective those efforts will be in moving the numbers.
“I think the Romney campaign is betting that women will respond to economic security by arguing that a more responsible, and more limited, government can improve the economy,” said Mark Caleb Smith, director of the Center for Political Studies at Cedarville University.
“The Obama campaign seems to believe that women will respond to a guarantee of future economic benefits and reproductive rights.”
Last week both campaigns had events in Cincinnati targeting women voters. The Obama event featured actress Natalie Portman and former Ohio first lady Frances Strickland. The Romney event was hosted by Ohio Lt. Gov. Mary Taylor and former Bush Administration Labor Secretary Elaine Chao.
Also last week a new Romney ad targeted women and mothers, saying 5.5 million women are unemployed and their share of the national debt is $50,000.
“Women simply can’t afford another four years of President Obama,” said Romney spokeswoman Izzy Santa. “Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan will create a stronger middle class by focusing on issues women care about the most - growing the economy, reducing our debt and securing a more prosperous future for our families and future generations.”
In a phone interview Chao said women care about the economy, they care about cutting regulations and taxes so that businesses can grow, and are concerned about controlling the budget deficit. She criticized anemic job growth under Obama and touted Romney’s business background.
“The president seems to be blaming everybody but his economic performance,” said Chao. “Three and a half years into his administration it is now his economy.”
Kate Chapek, national women vote director for the Obama campaign, said Obama inherited an economy “hemorrhaging” 750,000 jobs a month nationally and has turned things around with 30 consecutive months of private sector job gains. She said women she talks to are intensely interested in economic issues and in Obama’s success in the auto industry turnaround, health care reform, fighting efforts to reduce women’s access to affordable contraceptives, making college more affordable, and cutting taxes.
“What we are finding among women is they care as much if not more about the economy than men. It’s very very important to women that the economy is moving forward and that more importantly that there’s economic security in the middle class and in the future of their families,” Chapek said.
The Obama campaign is also emphasizing the contrast with Romney on reproductive rights, and getting pushback from groups like the Susan B. Anthony List, which brought an “Abortion is not healthcare” bus tour through southwest Ohio last month.
Obama holds extreme positions supporting abortion rights, said Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the anti-abortion group, which has a political action committee and a non-profit arm that has givent $8 million toward defeating Obama and senate candidates.
“I think Romney is the pro-woman candidate,” she said. “He’s not mandating anything on our consciousness that we disagree with, he is listening to women who want actually to establish true common ground on this issue so we can stop arguing about it all the time.”
Jessica Kershaw, an Obama campaign spokeswoman, said the Republican Party took the “extreme” position by adopting a platform that bans abortion even in cases of rape and incest.
“The Romney-Ryan campaign wants to take women’s rights back to the 1950s,” said Kershaw. “President Obama believes that women have the right to make their own healthcare decisions and these issues are too important to play politics with women’s health.”
Rademacher said the debates about access to contraception and abortion may have the effect of mobilizing women to go out and vote.
“You can debate whether the war on women was real or not, but there was a perception that one party was suddenly adopting policy stances that were treating women in an unequal way,” Miller said. “I don’t think anybody expected it to become the issue that it became.”