Pollsters Say Women’s Vote Up for Grabs in Election
August 6, 2008 - 7:16 PMA new poll shows that neither major party's presidential candidate has won the hearts and votes of a majority of women voters, but one in five women who voted for Hillary Clinton in the Democratic primaries plans to vote for Sen. John McCain in November.
The Lifetime Networks poll, released Tuesday, shows that 49 percent of women support Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) and 38 percent support McCain – but another 10 percent are still undecided, suggesting the race for women could become close.
The Lifetime poll, which was conducted by Republican pollster Kellyanne Conway and Democratic pollster Celinda Lake, included responses from 700 women nationwide and has a 4.4 percent margin of error.
Obama’s lackluster lead among women voters came as a surprise to Conway who said that based on the number of things going in Obama’s favor, his lead should be larger at this point.
“I’m surprised that Barack Obama isn’t doing better among women,” Conway told CNSNews.com. “He needs about 54 percent of women to become the next president. The 11 point difference between Obama and McCain right now is the 11 point difference that was between Bush and Gore in 2000, and Bush won.”
According to the results, the majority of women voters polled said gender does not matter in the candidates’ selection of running mates.
Ironically, while Obama would benefit slightly by choosing a female running mate, McCain would likely receive less of the women’s vote if he were to choose a female to run with him on the ticket, the pollsters said.
“The bulk of women said that it didn’t make much difference,” Lake told CNSNews.com. “The ones for whom it made the most difference were the Hillary Clinton voters. Forty-seven percent of them said they would like a woman vice president.”
Conway applauded these results, saying, “Women are more gender-neutral than gender-sensitive when it comes to a vice presidential candidate, and it means that women are much more substantive when it comes to the election.”
On a personal level, women seem to favor Obama when it comes to which presidential candidate they would like to join on vacation or during a commute to work, the pollsters found.
Of those who participated in the survey, nearly 50 percent of the women said they would like to have Obama join them, while the amount of women who would like to vacation or drive with McCain was around one-quarter of the respondents.
Lake is hopeful that women’s favorable impression of Obama’s personality will have a positive influence for him on Election Day, but it may not be as much as he needs.
“Character and personality usually drive the vote. I would say that it won’t be enough,” Lake said. “To get over 50 percent of the vote, I think that Obama is going to have to build on that personal favorability and also reassure women about the change that he represents.”
Conway said that when it comes to choosing a president, she is hopeful women will not base their vote on which presidential candidate is the most entertaining.
“Is likeability and personality and these sophomoric questions like ‘Who would you rather have a beer with?’ going to dominate, or are women going to want an experienced person who they view as qualified and seasoned to lead the nation’s economy and our troops in wartime?”
The pollsters say their survey showed that Obama’s support is based on personal attributes such as his intelligence and youth, while support for McCain is based largely on perceptions of his qualifications and experience.
Lake acknowledges that basis of support may be a liability for the Democrat but said it is not clear how much.
“I think for these undecided voters, that’s the real tradeoff,” said Lake. “They know McCain better than they know Obama, but they don’t like him as well. I think that’s the central division. That’s what it’s coming down to.”
Conway is not so quick to dismiss the importance of experience when it comes to the women’s vote.
“Women are credentialists, and they’re pro-incumbent for a reason. McCain is the more seasoned, more qualified, more experienced candidate,” said Conway. “There are certain things that Barack Obama is not going to be able to have as part of his presidential resume between now and November, and at the top of that is experience.”
Meanwhile, the Gallup Poll’s daily tracking survey, a national poll that includes male responses, shows Obama is leading by only three to four percentage points.