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04.18.12

Democratic Fears Fade as War on Women Wounds GOP

Unmarried women are coming back to the Democrats after their 2010 fling with Republicans.

The Republican casualties in the “War on Women” are mounting. According to a new Democracy Corps/Women's Voices Women's Vote Action Fund battleground poll, the current GOP agenda is sending unmarried women back into to the arms of Congressional Democrats.

Previous polling has shown President Obama gaining significantly among women, but Democratic pollster Stan Greenberg and women’s voting expert Page Gardner, who conducted the poll, say this is the first survey to show similar gains at the congressional level. Bottom line: in the entire battleground represented in this survey, including both Republican and Democratic districts, Democrats hold a 51 to 41 lead over Republicans among women.

In 2010, Republicans won the women’s vote for the first time in 30 years. Many of the women who had voted for Obama stayed home because they were so unhappy with the economy. According to the pollsters, married women (who typically vote Republican) have seen almost no rise in unemployment, while unmarried women (core Democratic voters) have been losing jobs at the same rate as men. This caused unmarried women—who comprise 25 percent of eligible voters—to turn from Obama in 2010.

While Democrats had previously worried that 2012 could be a repeat of the midterm elections in terms of women, those fears are receding.

The poll found Democrats making significant gains among women in districts held by Republican incumbents. They report: “In the Republican-held districts where we have data from last year, Democrats picked up a net 10 points among women since December and now lead by 4 points. Among unmarried women, Democrats lead by 20 points in Republican held districts.” Page Gardner said in an interview, “Unmarried women don’t like the GOP economic arguments and they don’t agree with what is happening in terms of argument about birth control.” President Obama should send embossed thank you notes to the GOP leadership and, of course, Rush Limbaugh. “Do not underestimate the power of what is happening on this contraception issue,” said Greenberg in a conference call with reporters. “Contraception is a Terri Schiavo moment; there is a sense of government intrusiveness.”

Obama should dash off a note to Congressman Paul Ryan as well. Unmarried women are feeling that the Republican Party is hostile to them on the economic front, thanks in large part to the Ryan budget—which voters give a big thumbs down. Said Greenberg, “The Ryan budget is very problematic [for Republicans]. It gets only 42 percent of overall support [from men and women] with the only description being that it is cutting spending. When you offer more description, it drops to 35 percent support. The more people learn about it the more they dislike it.” For unmarried women it was worse: only 19 percent supported the plan when provided details about it.

“Contraception is a Terri Schiavo moment; there is a sense of government intrusiveness.”

The survey of likely voters was conducted in 56 congressional battleground districts with Republican incumbents and 23 Democratic-held battleground districts between March 29 and April 4—preceding the kerfuffle of Hilary Rosen’s remarks about Ann Romney having never “worked a day in her life.” Could that controversy affect women voter’s views?

“That flap was more of an inside-Washington argument,” Gardner told me in an interview. “We did two sets of focus groups and the women are really focused on … their economic concerns how they can make it on their own. The contraception debate was brought up organically as were the Rush Limbaugh comments … but nobody raised the Hillary Rosen comments.”

But before Democrats break out the champagne, the authors of the poll offer a warning: unmarried women are not as energized as their married sisters about voting in the 2012 election. They point out that unmarried female voters have the potential to significantly affect the outcome of the presidential and congressional elections in battleground districts, but much depends on Democrats ability to turn them out. The unmarried women are coming back after their 2010 fling with Republicans and the trend is in the right direction, but the numbers for Democrats among women are still not what they were in 2008.

Unforced errors by Republicans certainly help the Dems, but a strong economic argument is what will close the deal with these ladies.