Dr. Victoria M. DeFrancesco Soto is a Fellow at the Center for Politics and Governance at the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs, a visiting scholar in the Department of Government and director of communications for Latino Decisions.
He’s tall and handsome. It doesn’t hurt that he croons rhythm and blues and can shake it up on the dance floor. President Barack Obama is the ultimate ladies’ man, but not because of his swagger or looks. His popularity among women boils down to politics.
Part of his appeal to women is simply inherited. For decades women have preferred Democratic candidates. The other part of his female magnetism comes from his aggressively courting women this past year by highlighting women’s policy issues.
Women are predisposed toward Democratic candidates. In the 2008 presidential election women preferred Obama by 7 percent over John McCain. This preference by the part of women voters in 2008 was only part of a larger trend known as the gender gap.
Since 1980 there has been a significant difference between the percentage of women and men voting for a presidential candidates, with larger proportions of women preferring the Democratic candidate. Perhaps not surprisingly, the largest gender gap in history occurred in 1996 with President Bill Clinton capturing 11 percent more of the female vote.
While Obama knows he’s got the gender gap on his side, he’s not relying on this alone going into the 2012 general election. Over the last six months the president together with his party’s congressional delegation has sought out policy positions that center on women and more specifically that highlight differences between Republicans and Democrats on such issues. The Democrats have done a good job racking up the policy points and painting the GOP as not very attractive.
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In early February the Susan G. Komen Foundation stated it would cut off funding of preventive breast-cancer screening services to Planned Parenthood. This proposal unleashed a maelstrom of criticism that eventually led the Komen Foundation to reverse its decision. Pro-choice advocates together with the larger Democratic Party chalked up a big public relations win. Anti-abortion groups and the Republican Party were framed as callous for disregarding the preventive health needs of women, especially low-income women, who use Planned Parenthood services for breast cancer screenings.
Soon after the dust settled from the Komen Foundation controversy, the Obama administration brought women back into the spotlight announcing mandatory birth control coverage. According to a Kaiser Family Foundation Poll the majority of Americans supported the mandate, and not surprisingly the higher level of support came from those most directly affected by the policy proposal, women. More important, two-thirds of Independent women, those women whose vote is the holy grail of any candidate, support the mandate.
Not a month had passed when women were back in the mix of political controversy. In late April the Democratic-led Senate passed a re-authorization of the Violence Against Women Act that provides funding for social and health programs to curb violence and help victims. Further measures were added to broaden the protections of the act prompting the Republican-led House of Representatives to signal their lack of support for the re-authorization. While House Republicans state they are working on their own alternative version of the bill, the lack of outright support for a bill that seeks to protect women from violence is not the best move in courting female voters.
This summer Democrats will continue to court women, this time through a reintroduction of the Paycheck Fairness Act. This act would allow employees to address wage discrimination through the disclosure of salary information. The act passed the House in 2009, however stalled in the Senate. This summer, Senate Democrats have indicated their intentions to revive the bill. While the bill does not have a good chance of getting past the Republican-led House, it provides an excellent opportunity for the Democrats to further court women.
The presumptive GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney is neck in neck with Obama in the polls. However, among women, he continues to lag behind the president. Republican presidential contenders are short on women from the get-go. However, in 2012, the GOP is at a particular disadvantage as a result of the vigorous policy offensive line the Democrats are taking with the female electorate. The fact that Mitt Romney doesn’t have the smooth voice of Obama also doesn’t help the case for the GOP’s presidential candidate.
What to read and watch next:
- Sherri Greenberg discussing why the November will bring a close general election
- Natalie Stroud exploring tuning in to politics
- Regina Lawrence covering how Romney is pressuring Santorum to exit the race
- Tom Tweed examining religion and politics
- Paul Stekler examining whether Romney can reach the real South
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