Women helped President Bush win re-election last year, but a national survey finds many have turned against him and the Republican Party – more so than men voters – as they have grown displeased with the war in Iraq, plans to change Social Security, and what they see as inappropriate political intervention in personal or family decisions.
“The gender gap is back, and it is healthy,” said Ellen Malcolm, president of EMILY’s List. The group, which raises money to elect Democratic women who support abortion rights, released its findings Wednesday based on a survey of more than 2,000 women conducted last month by Democratic pollsters. “We see the erosion that has now been appearing in many polls for the Republicans is almost solely attributable to the shift of women voters.”
Last fall, an estimated 48 percent of women voters supported Bush _ 5 percentage points more than in 2000 and 10 points more than for Republican Bob Dole in 1996. But one-third of women surveyed who voted for Bush said they don’t intend to vote Republican in the 2006 congressional mid-term elections. Women favored Democrats over Republicans for Congress, 43 percent to 32 percent, which, combined with men’s responses, would put Democrats ahead, 40 percent to 36 percent.
Democrats shouldn’t declare women as their salvation just yet, pollsters said.
Most women who backed Bush but now have cold feet about the GOP are undecided about 2006, not committed to Democrats. One-fifth of women who supported Democrat John Kerry for president also are undecided. Republicans comfortably control the House and Senate and incumbents usually are re-elected.
Carl Forti, of the National Republican Congressional Committee, said presidential voting patterns don’t apply to congressional races, which are more about hometown and pocketbook issues than national security. And while voters give Congress very low marks, Forti said they’re far more upbeat in recent polls when asked about their own representatives.
“Until, in a particular district, you say, ‘Are you going to vote for Candidate X or Candidate Y?’ you can’t get a good comparison,” he said.
Forti also rejected the idea that trouble in Iraq, or dissent over Bush’s idea to shift Social Security dollars into private investments, would hurt Republicans next year.
Still, the EMILY’s List survey offers some insights for Democrats, and warnings for a Republican Party that, controlling the nation at a time of angst, is sensitive to the idea of a backlash.
Women’s drop-off in support for the GOP played out virtually across the board, except for white, evangelical Protestant women. “Anti-intrusion social conservatives” _ defined as women who believe abortion should be legal only in rare circumstances, but who also believe government should not impose moral views on individuals _ supported Bush by 50 percent last year, but just 30 percent are committed to voting Republican in 2006.
Social Security was women’s top concern, followed by Iraq, health care and education. Six in 10 women favored improved international diplomacy to fight terrorism, while 25 percent advocated hunting down suspects to “defeat them before they can strike us.”
Women said they were more concerned about the decline of morality and family values with the next generation than economic problems. But asked who should be the arbiter of values, most women and men said right-to-life, sexuality and religious issues should be left to individuals, not government.
On stem cell research, Republican women were statistically divided as to whether science undermines traditional and religious values, or government should help expand research. Democrat and independent women overwhelmingly backed more research.
The survey and analysis of 2,007 women and 606 men was conducted May 18-26 by Garin-Hart-Yang Research Group and The Feldman Group. The poll has a margin of error of 2.2 percentage points on the women-only responses.