It’s common knowledge that polls shape elections. They don’t just change where the candidates will spend their money (hint: swing states) they also change what campaigns will be saying with that money. This election is all about women's votes — especially in the 12 swing states still in play.
At this point, men's votes are decided: they are voting Romney. But the undecided women's vote is substantial and it can still go either way.
This is the vote that was a major factor in President Obama’s 2008 victory. He won the votes of women around the nation by more than 13 points, in an election year where 8 million more women than men turned up at the polls. In the win-by-a-sliver 2000 Bush/Gore race, women voted for Gore by 11 points. In 2004, when Kerry had women by a paltry 3 points, he lost the election.
This year, securing the votes of suburban women in the swing states is a must for the Obama campaign. A month ago, President Obama had a strong lead with undecided women in the swing states. But six days ago, when new polls from the swing states were revealed, President Obama only had swing state women by 1 point.
Two days later, on October 17, Gallup released a poll regarding concerns of the women from the 12 swing states. They asked respondents to decide what the most important issue for women is in this election. 39% of women answered abortion, 18% answered health care, and 15% answered equal pay. Only 19% said that jobs were the most important issue.
Since then, the Obama campaign has doubled down on these issues. On October 19, campaign staff Tweeted:
FACT: Romney claims he wouldn’t take away a woman’s right to choose — but said he’d be “delighted” to sign a law banning abortion.
FACT: Romney tried to hide his extreme stance on birth control, but he has supported laws that would let employers deny coverage.
FACT: Romney claims he supports equal pay for equal work, but refuses to say whether he supports the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act.
The Obama campaign's TV and radio advertisements all mimicked the same message: Romney is against women’s rights, including abortion, contraceptives, and equal pay.
That should seal the deal, right? While Romney stays focused on the economy, the Obama campaign is speaking directly to what swing state women report matters to them.
Not quite. On October 22, five days after the gender-specific swing state poll came out, another Gallup poll on the swing state voters was released. When asked about the most important problem facing the nation, 36% of women from the same swing states answered the economy, 28% said unemployment, and 9% said the deficit. Only 1% of women said abortion.
What is the difference? These two polls were only five days apart, both from the same reputable polling company. The only discrepancy was whether the pollster asked the woman the most important issue facing women, or whether the pollster asked her the most important issue facing the nation.
The difference between those two questions is key. And each campaign is betting on whether that suburban woman will vote for her nation or her gender.
Where would I put my money? The women I know in key swing states like Virginia and Ohio are worried about their families, communities, and nation. We'll hear the answer from all of these women on November 7.