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Presidential Tickets Offer Women Voters More Choices

September 5, 2008 at 6:15 PM EDT
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Although female voters had been leaning Democratic so far in this presidential campaign, Gov. Sarah Palin has brought new appeal to the Republican ticket for socially conservative women. Two analysts examine issues that concern women and how these will influence their vote, especially for Hillary Clinton's former supporters.

JIM LEHRER: Now, how the Sarah Palin nomination might impact women voters. Judy Woodruff has that story.

JUDY WOODRUFF: John McCain’s choice of Sarah Palin as his running mate was partly aimed at winning over women voters, including those who supported Hillary Clinton in the Democratic primary.

But what are female voters looking for in this election? And what is Barack Obama’s message to them?

For that, we turn to Republican strategist Linda DiVall. She’s president of American Viewpoint, a public opinion research firm, and she polls for the McCain campaign.

And Democratic pollster Anna Greenberg, she’s senior vice president of Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research. She is not advising the Obama campaign.

Thank you both for being with us.

And, Anna, to you, first. We know women made up something like 52 percent of the vote overall in 2004. Right now, before the Sarah Palin announcement, how were women voters in this election dividing up?

ANNA GREENBERG, Democratic pollster: Well, women voters were leaning Democratic. Barack Obama was getting anywhere from 52 percent to 54 percent, 55 percent of the vote. And actually, after the Sarah Palin announcement, he was getting the exact same share of the women’s vote.

Most of the polls really haven’t been able to measure the impact of her speech on Wednesday night yet, so I don’t think we’ll know probably until early next week if she had an impact on the women’s vote. But certainly the announcement itself, it actually appears to be fairly stable.

What women are seeking

JUDY WOODRUFF: Linda, what were you seeing before and then after the announcement?

LINDA DIVALL, Republican pollster: Well, it's no surprise that Republican performance with female voters across the board has greatly deteriorated over the last two or three years. Certainly, with Sarah...

JUDY WOODRUFF: When you say no surprise, why is that?

LINDA DIVALL: Well, I mean, the Republican brand, the Republican Party I.D. has declined rather dramatically. And what Sarah Palin's nomination has done is provide a sense of excitement and energy to the ticket and has really helped us with female voters.

We do see evidence in our internal tracking that there has been a substantial pickup in rural America with suburban women. You have a number of sub-segments of the women's vote that are very important. And I think Anna and I would both agree that you can't look at the women's vote in a monolithic sense.

But I think what the nomination does and what the team does is provide a sense of experience, excitement. They're both fighters and mavericks. And that together, that's what women are looking for, somebody who can fight for them and understands their concerns.

JUDY WOODRUFF: What is it -- I know you just said, Anna, that we don't know yet fully what the results are, after her speech, which had a huge audience, almost as many, I gather, as Barack Obama's audience at the Democratic convention. What is it at this point you know women are looking for in this campaign?

ANNA GREENBERG: Well, above all, they're looking for someone to talk about the economy and, in particular, the cost of living. It's something that women are very close to.

They tend to be the money managers in the household. They tend to be the people taking the kids to the doctor. They're the people doing the grocery shopping. It's a very intense reality for them every day.

And I did focus groups actually after the Palin speech with women voters. And even among the voters who were leaning towards McCain, there was a sense that they hadn't heard anything about the economy, about the things that really matter to them in their daily lives.

They heard a, you know, an intelligent discussion around energy policy, but they'd felt like they didn't have a sense of what she or John McCain, for that matter, really were going to do for them. They felt like there were a lot of unanswered questions.

They thought she gave a good speech, and they were impressed with her poise and her confidence and her comfort in her own skin. They had very low expectations going into it, and they were surprised that she was strong and intelligent, based on what they'd been hearing and reading, but they still didn't really have a sense of what she was going to do for them.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And, again, these were independent voters?

ANNA GREENBERG: These were weak partisans, weak supporters, undecideds, so basically swing voters.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And, Linda DiVall, you've done some focus groups, as well, over the last 24 hours or so?

LINDA DIVALL: Eighteen hours.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Eighteen hours.

LINDA DIVALL: We did a dial test and breakout sessions in suburban Milwaukee with swing voters, with Wal-Mart women and with younger voters...

JUDY WOODRUFF: Now, what do you mean by "Wal-Mart women"?

LINDA DIVALL: We mean women who are -- as Anna just said -- are very concerned about the economy, women who are economically distressed, whose disposable income has declined rather substantially.

Sarah Palin's appeal

LINDA DIVALL: And what Sarah Palin brings to the equation is right away they see somebody who understands what they're going through on a daily basis, that she's just like them, she's an everyday mom, and she gets things done, and she knows how to balance the time between family and work and accomplish that.

And so, more than anything else, whereas in the past too many women have seen Republicans as being somebody who can't understand their daily concerns, Sarah Palin now provides that bridge of somebody who truly understands their daily concerns.

That, coupled with John McCain's experience and his worldview, the history that they came to learn of him last night, it's just an incredible ticket together of Sarah Palin, an everyday mom, a fighter, and they're both mavericks and fighters. And that's what really stood out.

ANNA GREENBERG: Well, I just -- I would just suggest that there isn't any evidence that, at least in the research that I've done, that she has expressed to these women that she actually understands what's going on in their lives economically.

There's no doubt, when you say, do you relate to her? Do you connect with her? Do you understand, as a mom, a working mom, the challenges of balancing work and family? They do, and they're very empathetic and very impressed with the family that she's raised.

But then they say, what exactly is she going to do about, you know, the cost of groceries? What exactly -- how in the short term are we going to bring down the cost of gas? How can I make sure I can afford college? There weren't a lot of those answers, and I'm just reporting what these women said to me.

The candidates' core beliefs

LINDA DIVALL: But on that point, particularly when it came to energy, they did see somebody who's done something on energy prices in Alaska, who's worked to resolve the energy crisis.

So on something that's very near and dear to their hearts, the price of gasoline, they do see her as somebody who understands that problem and has worked to provide a solution.

Furthermore, every candidate brings first impressions to the equation. And what she does more than anything else is she does bond with people in that regard. So that's a very important first impression.

JUDY WOODRUFF: What about her profile on the so-called social issues? We know that she's pro-life on abortion. We know that she's pro-gun rights. She is for, I believe, for teaching creationism in the schools.

Are those issues that matter to typical women? You can't say typical women voters, I know that, but among these independent women who both campaigns are going after?

ANNA GREENBERG: Well, yes and no. I mean, if you ask people, what's the most important concern right now in your life? They'll say gas prices. They won't say, you know, gay marriage. I mean, those kinds of issues tend to be, in terms of immediate concerns, low on people's lists.

But people do care about the overall sort of, you know, value system of the candidates and what their core beliefs are. What's interesting to me about this is that there's actually -- Sarah Palin said almost nothing about those conservative issues in her speech.

She talked about some traditional Republican issues around government spending, but on social issues she was largely silent. But in these focus groups, the women knew that she was very socially conservative.

And for these swing voters, independent, suburban swing voters, they were concerned about it. They knew she was socially conservative because, of all the stories about her special-needs baby and choosing to have the baby, so they knew this about her going into it.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Is this, then, Linda DiVall, going to be a function of how much those social issues are highlighted in the campaign?

LINDA DIVALL: I think, more than anything else, what women are going to look at is how Sarah Palin and each ticket addresses issues that are fundamentally important to them: the economy, the war, the vision for the future, who can govern, and who can move this country forward.

And what the team together provides is a unique understanding and a unique compatibility, if you will, in terms of fighting for them.

The Democrats no longer own that change mantra. Both McCain and Palin said quite clearly, "I've fought for things. We've fought against the special interest. We fought against our party."

And so women say there's somebody who's on my side who can fight for me. And so, in this election, social issues not as important as they once were. People are more fundamentally concerned about the economy and where they're going to be in the future.

Hillary Clinton's supporters

JUDY WOODRUFF: And what about those vaunted 18 million Hillary Clinton voters, Anna? Where are they coming down right now in this election?

ANNA GREENBERG: Well, Judy, I think you said during the Democratic convention that that whole story of the Hillary voter who isn't supporting Barack Obama was largely a media-created story. And that's true.

Most of the polls going into the Democratic convention said about 70 percent of the people who voted for Hillary Clinton in the primary were voting for Barack Obama. Our research post the Democratic convention says 80 percent, 85 percent are voting for Barack Obama.

So there aren't a lot out of them there, but to the degree to which there are, Sarah Palin could not be more different than Hillary Clinton, both on the issues -- for instance, on an issue like choice -- but also on experience.

And I think it's actually almost insulting on some level to suggest that, because Hillary Clinton voters want to support a woman candidate, that they'll support any women candidate, no matter what her issue positions or no matter what her experience.

LINDA DIVALL: This argument shows exactly how scared the Democrats are, because Sarah Palin is a serious contender. She's a vice presidential nominee of the Republican Party. History is being made. And women across the country are sitting back and going, "Wow, I never thought this would happen."

I will agree with one thing: They want to know more information. And we all, I think, could agree at this table, no matter what challenge we knock down as females, there's always another one put forth in front of you and that's exactly what Sarah Palin faces today.

She did the speech. Yes, speechwriters wrote it for her. Guess what? Speechwriters write every man's candidate as -- every man's speech, as well. Next it will be the debates.

That's fine. We're all used to that pressure. And you know what? I think Sarah Palin will rise to the occasion.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, I have a feeling we are going to be talking a great deal between now and November 4 about the candidacy of Sarah Palin. Certainly we're going to be talking a lot about the women's vote.


JUDY WOODRUFF: Linda DiVall, Anna Greenberg, thank you very much.

LINDA DIVALL: Thank you.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Appreciate it.