News & Politics

Women Lead the Progressive Charge

Emily's List has some advice for Democrats looking for future electoral successes: embrace the fact that family is at the center of women's values.
EMILY's List, the Washington, D.C.-based political network that supports pro-choice Democratic women, has some not-so-subtle advice for Democrats: hijack the family values debate. And do it by targeting the interests of female voters.

According to a research study released by EMILY's List on June 22 entitled "Women at the Center of Change," Republicans are losing the support among women that won them the White House in 2004. The national survey of more than 2,000 women and 600 men found that one third of women who voted for Bush are not planning to vote Republican in the 2006 Congressional election.

"There is a clear message from the women we spoke to: never stand between a woman and her desire to protect and care for her family," said EMILY's List President Ellen R. Malcolm of the study. "Republicans will continue to lose women if they fail to respect that women see themselves -- not government or politicians -- as the arbiter of family values."

This family values argument may seem like a no-brainer to those who wrung their hands (or, more likely, gnashed their teeth) as the Republicans made one masterfully manipulative move after one mind-bogglingly stinging stab around issues of marriage, religion and economics during the 2004 presidential election, but it is instrumental to any future electoral successes for the Democrats. The most significant element of the study is that the concept of family is at the center of women's values.

"There's been a lot of conversation about which is more important -- values or economic concerns," said Karen M. White, national political director for EMILY's List. "Our data shows that's a false choice. For women, it's not an either/or decision. Democrats will not reach women by stressing economics alone."

Among the other top findings of the study are:
  • The gender gap among voters has emerged strongly, as 43 percent of women say they would now vote Democratic and 32 percent would vote Republican. By contrast, a 41 percent plurality of men say they would vote Republican for Congress and 36 percent say they would vote Democratic. This 16-point gender gap is dramatically larger than the 2004 presidential election (7 points) and the 2002 midterm election (5 points).
  • Democrats lead Republicans in every age group, particularly among women age 45 to 54 (46 percent to 29 percent) and those age 55 to 64 (45 percent to 27 percent), Likewise, Democrats have the edge among younger women: 44 percent to 35 percent among those under 35, and 40 percent to 39 percent among those 35 to 44. Seniors give Democrats and eight-point advantage (49 percent to 32 percent).
  • The Republican drop-off is particularly apparent among the following seven demographic subgroups of women: social conservatives, non-college-educated whites, Midwestern whites, Catholics, white married women without children at home, women "in the ideological middle" (or swing voters) and "weak" Republicans.

Why this sea change? The study finds women have moved away from the Republicans since Bush's reelection for three reasons.

First, they are dissatisfied with the country's general direction and blame the Republicans, who now control both houses of Congress and the White House, for the current course.

Second, the issue terrain has shifted from the war on terrorism toward domestic and foreign policy agendas on which Democrats have the advantage. Women in the study volunteered Social Security (27 percent) as their greatest concern, followed by the war in Iraq (25 percent), health care (20 percent), education (19 percent), the economy (16 percent), cost of living and gas prices (12 percent) and jobs (8 percent). This means, the study argues, that the area where Republicans had greatest advantage -- the war on terrorism -- has receded for American women and with it their chances for another electoral sweep. By 60 percent to 25 percent, women choose a diplomatic foreign policy approach over one that hunts down terrorists.

Third, women believe the Republicans have overstated their bounds on issues of privacy, most notably in the recent controversy over Terri Schiavo and euthanasia, and in the relationship between science and religion. Fifty six percent of Republican women believe government shouldn't impose any moral or religious point of view on the country (78 percent of Democratic women feel that way). Also, 60 percent of women choose a pro-science position and worry that the U.S. will not remain a leader in scientific advances in the 21st century.

But these statistics do not foretell a slam dunk for Democrats in 2006, said Geoff Garin of the Garin, Hart, Yang Research Group, a Democratic political polling group that conducted the study for EMILY's List. "Women are pessimistic about the economy and Democrats must offer them hope, but values -- especially those regarding family and community -- must be part of the dialogue."
Tamara Straus served as senior editor of AlterNet from 1999-2002.
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