Susan B. Anthony would be pleased. The women’s vote played a pivotal role in this election campaign. The nation’s largest public policy women’ organization, Concerned Women for America, is also pleased — not just because the women’s vote received so much attention in both parties’ campaigns, but because religion and marital status garnered equal attention as potential vote determinants. Moral initiatives graced the ballots in numerous states and have been upheld by large majorities. Some focused their efforts in 2004 on “soccer moms” or “security moms,” but we argue that the “Bible Study Moms” – women who are both religious and married with children – were a key demographic bloc in this election.
Early on, self-identified Evangelicals represented a large portion of the undecided vote: 46 percent of all undecided voters at the end of the summer were Evangelicals. At that time looking only at women, nearly one-third, 28 percent of the undecided vote, were evangelical WOMEN.
A poll conducted for us in late July by Wirthlin Worldwide provides more information about the views of American women and the Bible Study Moms. The survey canvassed 1,000 adult Americans, including 365 evangelical voters, 202 women and 163 men. At that time, things didn’t look good for President bush because 52 percent of “born-again” women said that the country was on the “wrong track.” Even more surprising was the response of those women who said that family issues were more important to them than other issues: 53 percent of these women – women who were ordinarily Bush supporters – also thought the country was on the wrong track.
As we looked closer, however, among those who think family issues are more important than other issues, only just over half (56 percent) were planning to vote the same party that they did in 2000. So, Bush was destined to win 40 percent of these voters with15 percent going to Kerry. However, another 5 percent of family issue voters planned to switch away from Bush, and among new voters whose main concern in electing a president were family issues, the two candidates found themselves in a statistical dead heat – 11 percent for Bush and 10 percent for Kerry.
So what about those unmarried female voters who the Kerry camp targeted? Our polling shows that while indeed 43 percent of single women didn’t vote in 2000, those who did vote were split evenly 25 percent for Bush and 27 percent for Gore.
Kerry/Edwards were favored this time around among single women with 44 percent of their vote. However, this group of women was not a lock for their camp. The votes of women who were “probably” or “leaning” for either camp evenly split, 11 percent for Bush/Cheney and 12 percent for Kerry/Edwards.
It is clear that Kerry could not count on these votes as his: surprisingly, nearly one-quarter (24 percent) of single women considered family issues more important than other issues. And over one-third (31 percent) of swing voters put primacy on family issues.
Teresa Heinz Kerry and Elizabeth Edwards were sent out to deliver a female-framed “jobs, health care, economic security” message. Similarly, Laura Bush was tasked with explaining why “W is for Women.”
A pressure group organized by a Democratic consultant, Women’s Voices, Women’s Votes, targeted the 22 million unmarried women who did not vote in 2000 as an unmobilized voting bloc. The Kerry campaign cited these 22 million women repeatedly, assuring they were his voters.
Another left-wing group, Get Out Her Vote.com, said, “This election will decide the fate of issues central to women’s lives,” citing the usual suspects: “reproductive rights, civil rights, global peace, women’s economic equality, and the protection of environmental resources.” Did all women call these issues “central” in this election?
Throughout the presidential campaign, CWA tracked the group that we call the Bible Study Moms. They unwaveringly trended toward the Bush side. In a campaign this close, with an ever-vanishing block of undecided voters, this was an important group of women.
Not surprisingly, these women were most concerned about homeland security. This corroborated other poll findings about a female focus on security. However, a surprising nuance emerged from our polling. Family issues in this election cycle were dominated by gay marriage, abortion, stem-cell research and sex education. But among those voters who said family issues were most important to them, 41 percent said the types of judges likely to be appointed were most important to their candidate selection this year. This issue typically received very little attention — even with the illness of Chief Justice Rehnquist, there was little focus on the issue of judicial appointments. The one exception is in the pro-family movement where voters demonstrated political knowledge in recognizing the importance of judicial appointments. In fact, both married and single women chose this as a top family issue.
Among GOP voters, a majority, 53 percent, said that family issues were more important than other issues like economics, health care and security. And 61 percent of these family issue voters picked gay marriage as their most important concern.
After-the-fact in election 2000, commentators were surprised with the growing importance of the evangelical voting bloc. The Bush camp acknowledged that if the evangelical voters who were pro-Bush had not stayed home, the election would not have been close in 2000. Evangelicals in the 2004 election solidly supported the president; in the hottest battleground state, Ohio, 70% to 30% of evangelicals favored Bush.
With this election locked in a dead heat for months, one would be remiss not to note the importance of evangelicals and the Bible Study Moms.
Janice Shaw Crouse is spokesperson for Concerned Women for America Legislative Action Committee.