Continuing a trend that most notably started in 2000, women drove Election 2006. The women’s vote was a key to the Democratic victories of 2006. Democrats gained votes among young women and single women; married mothers and white women split their votes pretty evenly between the two parties. The shift of a significant number of married mothers from voting Republican in 2000 and 2004 to voting Democratic in 2006 made an important difference. Those women voters that I call the M&Ms (Married & Mothers) turned rather precipitously from Red to Blue in 2006.
Is there any reason that this move should have been a surprise? Not really. Prior to Election Day, polls consistently showed that Iraq, the economy and corruption were the major issues for the voting public. It shouldn’t have been all that difficult to see what the impact of these would be on the M&Ms.
IRAQ — The Democrats figured out the evolution taking place in “women’s” concerns and effectively neutralized the Republicans’ previously successful emphasis on the so-called “security” moms by continually highlighting the difficulties posed by the growing sectarian violence between the Sunnis and the Shias, an effort made all the easier by the mainstream media’s support with its reporting exclusively focused on the tragic car bombings. In 2004, more than half of women voters put their confidence in Bush to best conduct the war on terror; by 2006 that number dropped to 25 percent.
ECONOMY — While the Republicans focused on increased opportunities for women entrepreneurs, overall job growth and the booming stock market, the Democrats were successful in convincing working women that they were not getting ahead as fast as they should. The Republicans won resoundingly among those who said they were doing fine economically. The Democrats won among those who said they were losing ground financially: young women (ages 18-29) voted overwhelmingly Democratic and women ages 30-59 voted Democratic at exactly half the total of the younger women. Unmarried women voted heavily Democratic and the margin for non-white women was about four-to-one Democratic. The white women’s vote was split, which meant a loss of about nine percentage points for the Republicans.
The Democrats tapped into parental concerns about the availability and cost of health insurance, whether families will be able to pay for their kids’ college education and the cost-of-living financial squeeze experienced by low and middle income parents. The Democrats were successful, too, in convincing the public that the Republicans weren’t “helping families.” (Translation: Republicans didn’t understand the problems related to finding good child care for working mothers, and they were calloused about the personal impact of welfare reform. The emotional impact of the Democratic appeals to women is what affected the voters who defected from the Republicans and voted for Democrats in 2006.)
CORRUPTION — Conservative M&Ms were disillusioned by the Republicans because they didn’t see them addressing cultural disintegration. On the social and cultural issues, the true believers were disappointed that the pro-life, pro-marriage and pro-family causes were virtually irrelevant to the majority party that put forth little effort to champion those issues that their core constituency held as top priorities — abortion, destructive embryonic stem cell research, and traditional marriage. It is not surprising, then, that fewer Evangelicals voted in 2006 at the same time that more Liberals went to the polls. Evangelical support of Republican candidates dropped from 74 percent in 2004 to 69 percent in 2006 — that 5 percentage point difference in the GOP’s core voting constituency is significant. Among conservatives, 21 percent voted for Democrats in 2006; that contrasts with the 10 percent of liberals that voted Republican.
The Republican base of social conservatives, which had worked hard in the 2000 and 2004 elections, had great expectations that with their party in control things would get better regarding the negative media influences on children, such as violence and sexual content. Instead, the avalanche of pornography on the Internet just continued to grow. In addition, it took two years to get broadcast decency legislation passed and we are still waiting for cable choice to become a reality. When the Foley scandal was exposed, the Republicans were not seen by M&Ms as being any more conscientious than Democrats when it came to handling moral problems among their own. In fact, among voters who thought that the scandals were “extremely important,” 53 percent voted for Democrats.
Clearly, pessimistic voters dominated the 2006 election: polls indicate that over half of the voting public thought that the country was on the wrong track; six in ten voters disapproved of President Bush’s handling of the presidency and 61 percent disapproved of the Republican-led Congress. One has to wonder why the Republicans thought that they could win the 2006 elections when the prevailing mood of their base was so discouraged. Did six years of listening to “Ruffles and Flourishes” at White House receptions really make them deaf to the M&Ms concerns, or were their optimist projections just whistling past the graveyard? I suppose we’ll just have to wait and read the memoirs to learn whether they actually misjudged when they read the tea leaves or if it was all just Washington spin.