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Bridging the big gender gap

October 27, 2012
By Evan Bevins ( , The Marietta Times

While a recent national poll shows the gender gap in the presidential election disappearing, the latest Ohio numbers indicate a strong difference between men and women's preferences for who will be the commander-in-chief.

An Associated Press-GfK poll released this week showed women split evenly between President Barack Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney at 47 percent each. Romney's lead among male voters had gone from 13 percent to 5 percent.

But in the swing states where the candidates have focused so much attention, the gender gap remains.

A Quinnipiac University poll of Ohio voters conducted a few days earlier shows Obama leading Romney among women by 9 percentage points and Romney being the choice by more men by a 7 percent margin. The gender gap also remained in a swing state poll by Democratic-leaning Public Policy Polling.

Marietta resident Don Reed, 57, voted early for Obama, listing the economy as his primary motivation. But he said it doesn't surprise him that women favor the president over Romney.

"Obama's a lot more fair on women's issues," he said. "Seems like the Republican Party wants to play God ... determine who gets what."

Area women spoken to Friday said that while they of course have opinions on issues like abortion rights, women's health care and equal pay, those haven't been the tipping points in determining who they're supporting.

"I guess the issue that I'm having concerns with is the trust factor. I'm not really feeling the love for" Obama or Romney, said Heather Warner, of Sycamore Valley in Monroe County, a 38-year-old undecided voter. "Even if they tell you where they stand is what you want them to say, if you can't trust them, it doesn't matter."

Women tend to vote in larger numbers than men and President Obama had a greater advantage among female voters than males in his 2008 victory over Sen. John McCain, factors that contribute to why they're seen as such a crucial voting bloc this year. But McKinzie Craig, a political science professor at Marietta College, said the movement that's widened the gender gap is actually caused by men.

"Women have tended to stay with the Democratic Party while men" have shifted to the GOP, she said. "Over time, really, it's been a shift of men."

Women have been turning out in larger numbers than men at the polls since the '60s, but there hasn't always been a gender gap in presidential elections during that time, Craig said. In the wake of the Watergate scandal, "women were voting against the Republicans at the same rate as men," she said.

The gap started growing in the '80s and reached its height in 1992, Craig said. Some factors in that included a large influx of female candidates for Congressional seats and a U.S. Supreme Court decision basically affirming the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision prohibiting states from banning most abortions but also ruling that states could regulate them in certain ways.

Although the economy has been the driving concern throughout much of the 2012 election, women's issues have come to the fore at times, including equal pay, funding for Planned Parenthood and abortion rights - especially with a Romney-endorsed Senate candidate's controversial remarks about pregnancies resulting from rapes. There are also a record number of women running for office this year, Craig said, which affects the dialogue.

But so-called women's issues aren't the only things that influence a woman's choice in the voting booth.

"Women have generally voted in terms of the economy and social welfare issues, not just abortion and equal pay," Craig said.

Romney's campaign is seeking to appeal to women on economic issues, while Obama's campaign emphasizes social and economic issues in its pitch to female voters.

Marietta resident Debbie Thomas said she doesn't think she could ever decide to have an abortion, but a woman should be able to make that choice. While she disagrees with some Republicans' hard-line stance on prohibiting most abortions, that wasn't an overriding factor in why she voted early for Obama.

"I think Romney, to me, is just a smooth talker. He might have some great ideas, but he never talks about how he will implement it," said Thomas, 55.

Thomas said she doesn't look at issues from strictly a male or female perspective.

"To me, you've got to look at the family unit," she said.

Marietta resident Bill Salomon, 57, said the economy is probably his top concern but added that "as a Christian, I'm concerned with the moral stand of the candidates and the abortion issue and homosexual marriage."

He said he understands the argument that a woman should have the right to determine what happens to her body, but that he generally opposes abortion because "that's a separate life inside of them."

Still, Salomon believes the election will come down to the economy and he could see it going either way.

"I'll be voting for Romney based on what I feel about government. Minimal government's better for me, and less taxes," Salomon said.

Washington County Democratic Party Chairwoman Molly Varner said it does not surprise her that a gender gap has developed in this election. In addition to recent sparring over equal pay and abortion issues, she noted a bill introduced in the Pennsylvania legislature that would have required an invasive ultrasound prior to getting an abortion entered the national conversation earlier this year.

"The women that I'm hearing from and the women that I know are insulted and outraged about how their issues are being portrayed," Varner said.

Her Republican counterpart, Leslie Haas, said she and other women she's spoken with are surprised there is so much talk about a gender gap.

"They're kind of perplexed about where it's coming from," she said. "They don't see Mitt Romney as anti-women in any way, shape or form. And they don't see where Barack Obama comes out head and shoulders above Mitt Romney."

Both Haas and Varner agree on at least one thing - that voters shouldn't base their choice on one single factor, whether gender-related or not.

"I think that women are smart enough to realize that they can't be one issue voters," Haas said. "You have to look at the whole picture."

"I am disheartened that we are in an era of hot-button issues, that people will choose to vote based on only one issue," Varner said. "I think the hot-button issues are essentially a curse for our democratic process."



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