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Women show their clout in voting booth

By Fannie Flono
Associate Editor

Women were one of the key voting blocs in the 2012 presidential election. Exit polls show that had Mitt Romney not lost the female vote so badly, he would likely be getting his transition team in place, preparing to be sworn in as the next president.

But Barack Obama won the female vote – by 12 percentage points, 56 percent to 44 percent, according to the Gallup exit poll. By contrast, Romney captured the majority of the male vote 54 percent to 46 percent for Obama.

But the male advantage isn’t much of one for Republicans. White males who make up much of that majority in the GOP voting bloc are decreasing as a share of the U.S. population. And, critically, in every presidential election since 1980, the proportion of females who voted has exceeded the proportion of males who voted.

According to The Center for American Women and Politics, this gender difference holds true across all races and ethnicities – Asians/Pacific Islanders, blacks, Hispanics, and whites – in the last five presidential elections before 2012, except for Asians/Pacific Islanders in 2000 when males slightly outperformed female voters. Also, critically, women have favored the Democratic candidate in each of the last six elections.

Even in North Carolina where Obama narrowly lost the presidential race to Romney – 51 percent to 48 percent, Romney lost the female vote by nearly the same margin – 49 percent to Obama’s 51 percent. In Florida where the vote was called days after the election in Obama’s favor by a thin 50 percent to 49 percent margin, the female vote went to Obama, 53 percent to 46 percent.

The GOP might want to take some time to ponder this information as leaders strategize before the next presidential vote. And it’s not just the presidential races where politicians – Democrats and Republicans – need to focus attention. Women voters wielded clout in state and congressional elections too.

In North Carolina, Republican Pat McCrory got a big boost from unaffiliated voters – a CNN exit poll showed he stomped Democratic opponent Walter Dalton as he garnered 62 percent of the independent vote (independents represent 28 percent of the N.C. voting populace). But women represent 55 percent of N.C. voters, and 54 percent of them went for McCrory. McCrory, who also captured 49 percent of the moderate vote and 19 percent of the liberal vote, should take heed of the array of voters who gave him their vote this year and govern accordingly.

A number of races across the nation raised the ire of women – and female voters turned out in big numbers to express their displeasure in the voting booth.

Several Republican candidates who made controversial remarks about rape and abortion did not win on Election Day. The more well-known were Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock. In Missouri, Democrat Claire McCaskill defeated Akin, who argued in a radio interview that if women experience a “legitimate rape,” their bodies could “shut that whole thing down” and avert unwanted pregnancies. In Indiana, Democratic Rep. Joe Donnelly defeated Mourdock, who said pregnancies from rape are something “God intended.”

But there were others: In Wisconsin, state Rep. Roger Rivard told a newspaper that his father once advised him that “some girls were rape easy.” He was defeated for reelection by Democrat Stephen Smith. Florida’s U.S. Rep. Allen West, who advocated for such measures as the so-called Let Women Die Bill, which would allow hospitals to refuse emergency abortion care to women on religious grounds, was defeated in a squeaker by Democrat Patrick Murphy. Rick Berg, who referred to North Dakota U.S. senate challenger Heidi Heitkamp as “Heidi-ho” in radio ads was defeated by Heitkamp, the Democrat. Joe Walsh declared that abortion is never necessary to save the life of the mother so he wanted no exceptions for that. He was defeated by Iraq War vet Tammy Duckworth, who lost both her legs during the war. Walsh also maligned her military service.

With those and other losses, you’d think GOP politicians would get the message about respecting women’s health needs and their right to choices about their own bodies. Not in Ohio.

The battleground state went to Obama, with women leading the way in voting for him – 55 percent to Romney’s 44 percent. But this week, the Ohio legislature continued its attempts to restrict women’s access to contraception and abortion. Republican lawmakers proposed legislation to strip $1.7 million from Planned Parenthood, despite testimony from multiple health care providers and religious leaders lauding the preventive care provided by Planned Parenthood to primarily poor and young women in the state. Lawmakers are also trying to revive a bill called the “heartbeat bill” which would ban all abortions after the fetal heartbeat is detected – which often occurs before women even realize that they are pregnant.

Democratic state senator Nina Turner is so incensed by the moves that she has taken to wearing a provocative T-shirt with words on it suggesting a new meaning for GOP, the Grand Old Party’s acronym: “GOP: Get Out of my Panties.”

“Voters soundly rejected the foolishness of the radical right on Election Day in favor of the dignity of American women, but some lawmakers must not have heard,” Turner said.

These are the kind of intrusions into women’s lives that exit polls show brought a lot of women to the voting booth to vote for Democrats. Notes Stephanie Schriock, president of EMILY’s List: “Voters sent a clear message that they’re tired of a backwards-looking agenda that hurts women and families.” The political action committee, which supports pro-choice female candidates, reported more donors and members during the 2011-12 election cycle than at any other period in its 27-year history.

Of course, the women’s vote wasn’t the only key to Obama’s victory, and that of other Democrats nationwide. As has been widely reported, minorities – particularly Hispanics and blacks – and young people voted in significant numbers to give the edge to Democrats in several races. Those populations are growing, and will grow in voting clout.

Women’s voting power has been apparent for years. This year, it not only made a difference at the top of the ballot in the presidential contest, but down ballot in state races as well. Politicians take women for granted at their own peril.

Email: fflono@charlotteobserver.com.
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