Women voters could be key to presidential race
But for most, economic issues are more important than candidates' gender.
The economic crisis has quelled the nation's Sarah Palin-mania, at least for now.Skip to next paragraph
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While polls show the Alaska governor has effectively energized the Republican base, they also indicate that her nomination has had little impact on key independent voters. At the same time, concerns about her inexperience are rising - especially among women.
But this still is very much a women's election. Both candidates are vying for the women's vote, which could be pivotal in this hotly contested election. And then there are the historic markers: This is the first time the Republicans have put a woman on their presidential ticket. It’s also the first time in 25 years that a woman of either party has been on a major party ticket. And then, of course, there is Hillary Clinton’s formidable rise as the first major woman contender for either party’s nomination.
Political scientists say the impact of both women’s candidacies has made this a “transformative year” because for the first time it’s given the American electorate concrete examples of individual women leaders at the highest levels of politics that are ideologically and socially diverse.
“This period in 2008 has finally smashed the generic stereotype of one woman leader is all women leaders,” says Ruth Mandel, the director of the Eagleton Institute of Politics at Rutgers University and a cofounder of the Center for American Women in Politics.
“It used to be that if I said, ‘A woman in politics,’ it conjured up a generic image,” says Ms. Mandel. “Now people might think of Hillary Clinton or Nancy Pelosi or Sarah Palin or Condoleezza Rice. These are very different women with very different ideologies.” [Editor's note: The original version misspelled Dr. Rice's first name.]
Since the early 1980s women have turned out to vote in larger numbers than men. They’ve also generally tended to lean more Democratic. In 2000, Al Gore held a five point lead among women over George W. Bush. In 2004, it was a narrower three point lead for John Kerry over the incumbent.
Obama had held a fairly consistent lead over McCain among women during the summer. But the Republicans got a bounce after John McCain chose Governor Palin to be his running mate. In some polls the two camps were even tied among women. But that bounce appears to have disappeared. In current tracking polls, women are now leaning toward Obama/Biden over McCain/Palin by as much as eight points.
But the race is still neck and neck among white women. Married white women are leaning toward the Republican ticket. And working class white women – the “Wal-mart Moms” of this election – are solidly behind the McCain/Palin team.