We just finished reading a new report on swing female voters, which is based on a series of focus groups conducted earlier this month in Las Vegas and Philadelphia by the GOP polling firm Fabrizio McLaughlin & Associates and sponsored by the Young Guns Network, a group affiliated with House majority leader Eric Cantor. All the women in these groups either had voted in 2010 for a Republican candidate for governor or had not voted at all, but were now leaning toward President Obama or were undecided.
(We're not sure why the sampling of swing voters didn't also include women who had voted for a Democrat in 2010 but were now leaning toward Mitt Romney – though we'd imagine those women are harder to find, given that 2010 was a terrible year for Democrats, and Mr. Romney currently trails Mr. Obama among women by a considerable, though shrinking, margin.)
Obviously, focus groups, being by definition small, aren't representative of voting populations as a whole. But they can still be enlightening, since they offer a level of insight that polling can't provide into what real voters are thinking.
The two biggest takeaways from this report: Female swing voters, not surprisingly, care waaaay more about the economy and jobs than any other issue, including so-called "women's issues." And many are not well-informed when it comes to politics and government. (Example: Some participants named Hillary Rodham Clinton and Sarah Palin as current members of Congress.)
To some extent, the report seems to reinforce a point New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman made recently when he called Obama "the worst president I've ever seen when it comes to explaining his achievements, putting them in context, connecting with people on a gut level through repetition and thereby defining how the public views an issue."
Many of the women interviewed had negative views of Obama's health-care reform law – while also acknowledging that they didn't know what was in it. Indeed, the primary complaint about the law seemed to be that it was too big and confusing. Many also said they didn't know much about current tax policies, though when asked if the wealthy should pay more, they were divided.
And a "decent sized minority" of those interviewed had no idea what the "war on women" was.
Tthe women's most common reaction to Romney seemed to be that he was not particularly well-liked by Republican officials, both for being a "flip flopper" and for not being conservative enough. But that perception could actually benefit Romney, since these female swing voters (some of them registered Republicans) also view Republicans in Congress as too narrow on social issues and as "out of touch" with the general population.
These views may help explain why a new ABC News/Washington Post poll shows Romney making considerable headway among women voters, gaining 13 percentage points in popularity in the past month, while Obama lost seven points. Obama still leads Romney among women as a whole in the poll by 11 points. But that's down from his margin in 2008, when he won the female vote by 13 points. The president will need a strong edge among women again to win reelection. At the moment, at least, it looks as if he could do a better job of explaining his policies to them.