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WI: Women matter, say the parties as they work to close gender gap

By   /   September 17, 2012  /   News  /   No Comments

By Kirsten Adshead  |  Wisconsin Reporter

MADISON – The Mitt Romney-Paul Ryan campaign took another stab Monday at luring Wisconsin’s women voters, with an event dubbed “Moms Drive the Economy” featuring Ryan’s sister-in-law, Oakleigh Ryan.

The Democratic and Republican presidential campaigns are vying for women’s votes, but the gender gap in Wisconsin remains strong.
Photo by Sarah Stierch

But the gender gap in political preference remains strong, polling data suggests.

And in a tight race — RealClearPolitics has Obama up, on average, by 1.4 percent in Wisconsin polls — the difference in gender voting habits could decide the race.

“I think any time a race gets down into low single digits, you can point to the gender gap as one element,” said University of Wisconsin-Madison political scientist Charles Franklin, who is directing the Marquette Law School poll series this year.

Franklin cautioned about reading too much into that one element.

Polling data from throughout 2012 seems to indicate the GOP might be having some success in closing the gender gap.

But women still prefer women still prefer President Barack Obama to Romney, 56.5 percent to 37 percent, as of the mid-August Marquette poll.

Men prefer Romney, but by a smaller margin: 50.6 percent to 40.6 percent.

“That’s the difficulty,” Franklin said. “Women are just a little bit more than half of the voting public, so to balance the two you need to either pull down the women’s balance to Democrats or to increase the Republican balance toward men.”

The poll of 706 registered voters had a margin of error of 3.8 percent.

The gap has shifted throughout 2012, but the percentages ultimately weren’t much different in August than in Marquette’s March poll, taken before Romney was the official GOP candidate.

In March, 53.9 percent of women preferred Obama, while 36.7 percent preferred Romney.

Meanwhile, men in March preferred Romney to Obama, 49.3 percent versus 42.9 percent.

“If (closing the gender gap) were easy to do, then all the campaigns would do it,” Franklin said.

The margin of error for the March poll, of 707 registered voters, was 3.8 percent.

Wisconsin Reporter tried to cover the Oakleigh Ryan event in Madison but was told only the news conference afterward was open to the press.

But GOP women voters around the state have their own opinions on the perceived gender gap in voting.

“I think a lot of people think that they go with the generalization that the Democrats support schools more and give money to the schools, and the Republicans take money from schools,” said Kristin Pretasky of La Crosse, a small-business owner.

“I don’t think it’s (accurate), but I think a lot of people have a hard time believing that,” said Pretasky, who said she used to be a Democrat but has voted Republican for about 12 years.

Carol Lemke, a Crivitz retiree, said that, if men and women think differently about politics, “I haven’t noticed.”

“I can tell you from what I’ve noticed around my area here, and everyone we talk to male or female, they’re all toward the Republican side,” Lemke said. “I haven’t met anyone who is toward the Democratic side.”

Democrats and Republicans made obvious attempts to court women voters during their respective national conventions held over the past month, each giving women prominent prime-time speeches.

“Like millions of other women, I’m a working mom,” Melissa Baldauff, research director for the Democratic Party of Wisconsin, wrote in an email to supporters during the Democratic national convention. “So Michelle Obama’s speech last night about the values we instill in our children, and why it’s important to fight for a society where every child has the opportunity to succeed, really hit home.”

The Democratic Party also has pushing the GOP “war on women” message, hoping to persuade women voters that the GOP’s positions on contraception and abortion are too conservative and not in the best interests of women.

Franklin, though, said it’s easy to stereotype the way women vote on those issues, but in reality a sizable number of women are pro-life, just as a sizeable number of women are pro-choice.

“The real issue is what happens to the majority of women who are in between, accepting some restrictions on abortion but rejecting all restrictions on abortions,” Franklin said.

Franklin said it’s too easy to focus on gender as the reason for shifts in political opinion, when in reality other factors are involved that simply correlate with swings in the gender vote.

Women and men are not homogenous groups, he said.

“Republican women are very different than Democratic women,” he said. “Liberal men are very different than conservative men.”

The status of the presidential race in Wisconsin, including any gender gaps, should become a bit clearer this week. Marquette’s latest poll will be released Wednesday, and a Quinnipiac University poll will be released mid-week as well.

Contact Adshead at [email protected]


Kirsten formerly served as staff reporter for Watchdog.org.