Candidates Court the Undecided Women Vote
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RAY SUAREZ: For insights into gender politics this time around, we are joined by two pollsters: Republican Linda DiVall and Democrat Ethel Klein.
Linda, let’s start with you. Give me your view of the race overall and then break out women and explain where they are.
LINDA DIVALL: Sure. There are four surveys released today. Three of those polls show it absolutely dead even. The fourth, the Washington Post tracking poll, shows the president having a lead outside the margin of error. I would say this race is dead even.
If you look at women specifically and the so-called “gender gap,” what’s interesting in this race so far is that John Kerry’s real problem is that he’s underperforming with men. He’s only getting 40 percent with men if you look at the Washington Post tracking poll.
The president wins with men 56/40 and trails by five with women, 45/50. So Kerry has two problems. He’s not doing well enough with men, and the president is doing far better than I think a lot of people, the conventional wisdom had dictated with women.
If you look at what he’s done in Afghanistan for women having the right to vote, when you look at what he’s done with one simple word “security,” women are worried about security abroad, security at home. They’re worried about job security and health security.
And they’re hearing this president talk about this. And that makes a fundamental difference in terms of a different type of Republican talking about issues that they’re concerned about.
RAY SUAREZ: Ethel Klein, your view of the race overall and then break out women.
ETHEL KLEIN: Well, the key people right now are undecided and weakly committed voters. That’s who the race is focusing on. And they’re disproportionately women.
The estimates are between 55 to 60 percent of the undecided or weak supporters are women. And so everyone agrees that women are going to make the difference. And it’s what you say to them that will decide which candidate will win.
I respectfully disagree with Linda about where the polls are, because, in fact, if you look at the latest Zogby Poll, men are breaking even between Bush and Kerry, and they’re doing that because they’re looking more and more like women voters.
The economy is the big issue among undecided voters. And what they’re finding is that men are increasingly saying they’re dissatisfied where the economy is going. In July, the Washington Post poll showed that 55 percent of men said they were satisfied with the economic direction of the country. A month later it was 46 percent. And now it’s 46 saying satisfied, 47 dissatisfied and not knowing.
Women are the canary in the coal mine; they have a real sense of what’s going on in the economy because they have the low-wage work and low-benefit jobs.
And they see what’s happening to the price of milk and they watch the credit cards and see how much in debt they are.
So I think if you focus on the undecided voters and you think about what worries them, it’s the economy. And they’re looking for both candidates to say something new and different about that.
RAY SUAREZ: Well, I hear you both saying that the gender gap is still alive and well and really the argument is over how much of a matter of degree, but Linda, do you agree with your polling colleague that the undecideds are disproportionately women?
LINDA DIVALL: Yes, they are. The question with the undecided is: are they going to commit and are they going to turn out and vote?
There is no question that of the undecideds they tend to be disproportionately female; they tend to be more independents and ticket splitters; they do tend to be concerned about the economy and health care, however, if they’re not yet decided and one of the interesting things in this election – it was pointed out by Mr. Freeland from Ohio — that if you look at the polls today and if you look at vote intensity, everybody is a definite voter.
There is nobody in between. There may be 6 to 8 percent totally undecided, but there are no leaners and no probable. Everyone is definitely Kerry or definitely Bush in differing proportions.
So the question is: and this is one thing in Ohio that we don’t know, which Gwen really talked about, is the ground game: what the Democrats, what the Republicans have done with newly register voters, and what, if anything, will motivate those people to vote on Election Day. If you look at single women in particular, they are more likely to vote Democratic if they decide to vote, but they’re also the least likely to vote.
So the problem is twofold: One getting them to vote, and two talking about issues that will get them to the polls on Election Day.
They tend to cite the fact they don’t have time to vote; they tend to cite the fact that politics and government is not relevant to them. Those are two significant hurdles to overcome.
RAY SUAREZ: Ethel Klein, do you agree that people who are still undecided this late in the game are also pretty good candidates for being no-shows on polling day?
ETHEL KLEIN: Yes. I agree, and I think Linda is right. And I would add to her list of why they are. It’s because they don’t want to make a mistake.
The people who are undecided at this point see this as a major responsibility. They are going to decide the direction of the country.
It’s daunting to them, particularly to women. And in making that decision, they want to be comfortable that they’re making the right decision.
And I think both the Republican and Democratic candidates are really focusing on the battleground states and they’re going to be talking about economics because that’s what’s left. I would give you an example of how both parties could be courting the women’s vote.
And the Republicans are doing this. I think Linda and her colleagues have done a very good job in understanding about women being the economically vulnerable voters.
And they talk about the ownership society, because the iconography of what it means to be secure is to be able to have a house, maybe own some stock, have some security.
What the Democrats need to be talking about is the debt-ridden society, which is, as one of your people said in the clip, you know, they have no money to spend, money is tight.
People who own a house are worried about keeping their house. When people talk about off-shoring, they talk about manufacturing jobs.
Well, the reality is that right now the biggest growth in off-shoring is in service sector jobs, and those are women’s job. So you find women losing their place in employment because the call centers are going overseas.
You’re finding that more and more radiologists and technical, low-level technical jobs that are considered good jobs for women are being displaced because those jobs are being digitized and you can be reading them from a lab in Pakistan or in a lab in Ireland, and you’re also finding that the government, because of this incredible debt, is shrinking its workforce. So the people who are losing jobs are teachers who happen unfortunately to be women.
This is the first time when you look at unemployment numbers where women’s unemployment rate look surprisingly like men’s. I mean, the only good thing about women’s jobs beings low wage work is that you’re less likely to be fired, and increasingly women’s jobs are going.
And they’re going partly because of outsourcing and they’re going partly because the government sector is shrinking. And they need to hear this from the candidates.
RAY SUAREZ: Linda DiVall, you just heard Ethel Klein lay out the economic case, but aren’t women voters also telling researchers that security issues, terrorism, the war, are front brain, high-priority issues, as well?
LINDA DIVALL: Absolutely, but security means more than terror in Iraq. It also means being concerned for your health care benefits, being concerned for your job.
One thing Ethel didn’t mention is one of the more growing segments in terms of women business is female small-business owners and part-time owners. That’s about a ten to 15 million voter bloc.
So you have a lot of women, when Ethel talks about the ownership society, women saying, I want to have a piece of this for myself. And they’ve become the job creators.
And what President Bush is talking to is lower taxes, lower regulations, making sure they have a more positive environment to operate in and thrive under, so that the security umbrella is obviously much broader than just terror, but I think when you look at women in particular, they are very concerned about security at home, making certain that their kids are safe, making certain that the world that we function in has become a safer place.
And I think that is one thing that President Bush clearly represents is leadership, commander-in-chief, and quite frankly, until John Kerry crosses that threshold of being perceived as commander-in-chief, he’s going to fall short. And that currently is what’s happening.
He’s not been able to make up that deficit on leadership. If you look at all the polls, the president has a strong lead on the leadership dimension, and the other thing, this is in the Washington Post tracking poll, when it comes to understanding the problems and concerns of people like you, which is typically an attribute that Democrats have a significant advantage on, the president is dead even with John Kerry.
So the one thing – we’ve talked about issues; what we haven’t talked about is likeability and a connection with the voters. And women are seeing that they’re connecting with President Bush and they’re still seeing some distance here between themselves and John Kerry.
I want to be cautious here. Obviously women are not a monolithic voting block; nobody knows that better than Ethel and myself. So we’re talking about many different types of women but when you look at the aggregate, that does seem to be true, that John Kerry has a problem connecting with women in terms of their everyday problems.
RAY SUAREZ: Quick response, Ethel Klein?
ETHEL KLEIN: Well, I would agree that John Kerry has not as yet connected with women on their everyday problem, and that is his challenge and he needs to take it very seriously.
But I would also say is we’re covering this race as if we’re talking about an open race. And we’re talking about an incumbent president who has a four-year record.
For it to be this close and this problematic says that, in fact, people are not that happy with George Bush. And for people to stay this undecided says there are… we may be connecting with him, but we’re not comfortable.
And whatever the internals say, and I have to say that Bush’s internal numbers have been going down rather than up, this was a president who was at 81 percent approval at some point, is now down around 50 or 47 depending on which polls you look at.
RAY SUAREZ: I have to end it there.
ETHEL KLEIN: He’s in trouble.
RAY SUAREZ: Ethel Klein, thanks for being with us. Linda DiVall, good to see you.
ETHEL KLEIN: Thank you.