Women's Vote in 2000 Remains Up For Grabs

Panelists agreed that the female electorate does not vote as one. Women do care more about education and health care than male voters, they explain, but they differ dramatically about policy preferences and priorities.

(WOMENSENEWS)-A leading political analyst says there is simply no such thing as the "women's vote."

Anna Greenberg, an assistant professor of public policy at Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government, told a New Yorkconference on gender and politics that she still believes that women will be an important factor and, by all projections, a gender gap will emergewith Democrats drawing more women voters.

But she argues that putting 100 million women voters in a single box and stamping it with a gender label distracts from recognizing serious political differences among women.

"We never say there is a ‘men's vote,'" said Greenberg. "Women aremotivated to vote in different sorts of ways."

Greenberg was one among several speakers debunking the notion of amonolithic woman voter at the discussion sponsored by the Henry J. KaiserFamily Foundation.

Polls currently show Democratic candidate Al Gore with a seven to tenpointlead among women voters over Republican candidate George W. Bush. That isnot a large enough margin to elect Gore, speakers said.

One big division among women is race. White women voters actually supported Republican candidates in 1998 congressional races, said Greenberg.Minority women provided the margin of difference to give Democrats 53 percent of the women's vote.

"For reasons that have to do with race rather than gender, 92 percent ofblack women supported Democratic candidates in congressional elections, and that was enough for the overall women's vote to lean Democratic," saidGreenberg. A strong majority of Latinas (63 percent) also supported Democratic candidates, but only 46 percent of white women did.

In addition, women are a major force behind the burgeoning independent voter movement, said Kellyanne Fitzpatrick, president of The PollingCompany, a Washington D.C. firm that consults with Republican candidates. "The galvanizing issue for American women is that there is no galvanizing issue," she said.

Education and health care-once considered merely women's issues-have been mainstreamed. As a result, "we are more of an androgynous electorate," Fitzpatrick said. She insists that "hot button" issues-abortion, guncontrol, gay and lesbian rights, campaign finance, tobacco-are barely a blip on the screen, together counting for only 7 percent of the issues named as priorities by voters.

But women are still more likely than men to pick candidates based onissues, with 39 percent of women stating that issues drive them compared to only 33 percent of men, said Mollyann Brodie, director of public opinion and media research for Kaiser. Education and health care rank at the top of the issues list for both women and men, but women feel more strongly about each by some 10 points.

However, she added, there is little consensus among women on the specifics within the topics. Of the women who prioritized health care, 24 percent select helping the uninsured as their top concern, but, following close behind, in nearly equal amounts, others selected Medicare's financial security, prescription coverage for the elderly and a patient's bill of rights.

Younger women are more interested in education issues. But, Greenberg said, candidates are missing pivotal concerns over security and safety,particularly in after-school hours. And baby-boomer women, squeezed vertically between children and aging parents, form a "novelty" group of highly educated women that parties should examine more closely, said Fitzpatrick.

One speaker argued that although women were not united on many issues, pro-choice concerns transcend other issues. Kelli Conlin, executivedirector of the New York State affiliate of the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League, said that issue now defines thepolitical environment.

"We crave those barometers," when voters are showered with similar-sounding jargon on multiple concerns, she said, and pro-choice views are one.

The panelists agreed that how women will vote in 2000 is still up for grabs.

Women tend to make up their minds later in the election cycle, said Fitzpatrick. "These early horse race numbers are almost offensive towomen."