Any Democratic Party leader or liberal Democratic feigning surprise at the tidal wave of excitement Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin has stoked from among white female voters should strip off the mask. These folks, quite frankly, are getting just what they deserve. They should have seen it coming as clearly as a tsunami.
When they nominated an inexperienced, far-left candidate for president on the Democratic ticket, did they expect white mainstream women, particularly white married women, to stick with them? If so, this is a demographic they need to study before handing off yet another election they should have won in a walk. To assume white women’s politics (as a group) are progressive is to completely misunderstand them.
A new Washington Post/ABC news poll shows Palin has lifted Republican presidential candidate Sen. John McCain’s support among white women. He now leads Democratic Sen. Barack Obama among those voters.
The Post poll (and several others out this week) shows the presidential race in a virtual tie. Late last month, Obama enjoyed an 8-10 percent advantage among white women. But after last week’s Republican convention, McCain led by 12 points.
True, women as a whole vote Democratic. But white women do not. And married white women vote more often Republican than Democratic.
Sen. Hillary Clinton showed her gift as a candidate by winning this elusive demographic. This may explain why we still have not seen Clinton hammer Gov. Palin on the campaign trail (for Palin’s uber-conservative views.) And we probably won’t witness Clinton bashing Palin, because Clinton wants to win this constituency if she runs for president again in 2012.
George W. Bush won the white women’s vote by 11 points over John Kerry in 2004. He also edged ahead of Al Gore among white women in 2000. Bill Clinton won 48 percent of white women in 1996, to Bob Dole’s 43 percent. Even conservative Ronald Reagan took 62 of percent of this critical demographic niche in his 1984 landslide.
While white women haven’t voted for a democratic candidate in a presidential election in a while, it is actually white, married women who vote most Republican of any female demographic— much more so than single or widowed white women or women of color, married or unmarried.
These voting trends are driven by the economics behind them. Married white women are the richest of any group of women. They tend to depend less on government subsidies (which Democrats support) and support tax cuts (an issue on which Republicans claim supremacy.)
Not only do white married women vote more Republican than single white women and women of color, but married voters generally turn out in greater percentages than unmarried voters, making wooing married white women all the more critical to success. Womensenews reported in 2004:
"While single women’s participation rates grew in 2004, they voted at significantly lower levels than married counterparts. Also, 24 percent of unmarried female voters tend to drop off in midterm elections, compared to 20 percent for the overall population.
In 2004, unmarried female voters grew to 22 percent of voters, up from 19 percent four years earlier? Fifty-nine percent of unmarried women voted that year, compared to 50 percent of single men. But a much greater percentage of married women –71 percent — voted. If unmarried women voted at the same rate as married women in 2004, there would have been 6 million additional voters?"
So pardon me if I’ve crossed your eyes with an overload of data, but the fact is it should be no surprise to any pundit, pollster or political commentator that Sarah Palin is helping Republicans win the women’s vote. She comes from and represents the most important voting demographic in America today.
It is too early to say who will win. The debates have not taken place. And a Democratic campaign denizen friend keeps telling me the polls are way off because pollsters don’t poll cell phones and the majority of young Americans are no longer reachable via residential landlines.
Obama, of course, wins big among younger Americans. But whether they will turn out in appreciably larger percentages than in past elections remains to be seen. No matter which side you’re on, your nails should be chewed well down by now.
(Bonnie Erbe is a TV host and columnist. E-mail bonnieerbe(at)CompuServe.com.)