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Women Voters Like Bush

CAMPAIGN ROADMAP: A continuing series of articles analyzing the 2000 presidential strategies

May 07, 2000|Linda A. DiVall | Linda A. DiVall, president of a public-research firm, was a senior advisor to Bob Dole's 1996 presidential campaign

ALEXANDRIA, VA. — One story the media have underreported this campaign season is Texas Gov. George W. Bush's strength among women. Could it be that they are in denial about Vice President Al Gore's gender-gap problems?

Consider the results of my poll, taken April 5-9. The Texas governor defeats the vice president 44%-37%. Bush leads among men, 47%-34%, and women, 41%-39%. Four years ago, former Sen. Bob Dole trailed President Bill Clinton among women 35%-53%. Bush is also doing substantially better among working women (Gore leads 43%-38%) than Dole (Clinton's advantage was 56%-34%).

Why are women voters drawn to Bush? Consider these factors:

* The political climate as measured by party identification is vastly improved. In my survey of 800 likely voters, a majority of men (31%) claimed loyalty to the GOP. Women were evenly divided among Republican, Democratic and independent. Working women identified with the Democratic Party by a margin of only 2%. This Democratic advantage among women is greatly reduced from previous years.

* The issue of the role of government is gender sensitive. When voters were asked, "Do you feel that government should do more to solve the country's problems or is government doing too many things better left to businesses and individuals?" 55% agreed with the latter, a trend consistent since the GOP takeover of Congress in 1994. With respect to gender, 59% of men believed government is doing too much, while 51% of women respondents felt that way. Bush believes in a limited role for government but draws the line at an interventionist government.

Some 53% of surveyed women said the federal government should spend more on health care and education and not change current tax rates. By contrast, 48% of men said spend more, while 44% said cut taxes.

Taken together, these results suggest that women are much more conflicted than men over the role of government, generally, and look to government as both a safety net, through Social Security and Medicare, and as a partner when it comes to, say, improving the quality of public education.

Notice that Bush, unlike his predecessors, has not called for the elimination of the Department of Education and is visibly passionate and committed when discussing the importance of education. These views, combined with Bush's engaging personality, help explain his current standing among women.

* Then there is Social Security. By a margin of 61%-34%, men agreed with the statement, "The Clinton-Gore administration has had eight years of sustained economic growth when they could have demonstrated leadership on Social Security and educated people on the need for fundamental change, but they would rather use the issue for their own political purposes." Women agreed by a much narrower margin, 50%-42%. That's a whopping 18% gender gap.

But women do accept some Social Security reform. In our poll, 16% of both men and women wanted to keep Social Security as is; 33% of men and 37% of women opted for minor reforms to protect current beneficiaries and give younger people an opportunity to invest a portion of their Social Security payroll taxes; and 44% of men and 39% of women would allow individuals to take responsibility for their future earnings by investing a portion of their payroll taxes in personal retirement accounts. Because the gender gap on reform is not as wide as expected, voters may be ready for presidential leadership on this controversial subject.

Although women are not a monolithic voting bloc, it seems evident that Gore senses he's behind Bush among women and has embarked on a course of attacking the governor's economic, foreign policy and Social Security ideas to reverse the situation. Clearly, Gore wants to increase Bush's unfavorable ratings and resurrect the traditional gender gap by portraying Bush as unprepared for the world stage and calling any plan Bush comes up with a "risky scheme." The problem for Gore is that by running a harsh negative campaign against Bush this early, he employs tactics that women disdain and usually reject. After eight years of Clinton, voters want to hear Gore's proposals for how he would lead, not listen to four months of an attack campaign.

Meanwhile, Bush continues to talk about issues relevant to women--education, health care, Social Security, home ownership and bipartisanship--in a values-oriented way, which underscores his understanding of their concern for economic security, and improving the quality of life of their families.

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