Susan B. Anthony would be pleased. The women’s vote was central to the outcome of both the 2000 and 2004 elections. The nation’s largest public policy women’s organization, Concerned Women for America, was also pleased — not just because the women’s vote received so much attention in both parties’ campaigns, but because religion and marital status garnered equal attention as potential vote determinants.
Factors are shaping up so that in 2006 and 2008, it appears, the married moms will be even more pivotal to the final vote counts.
During the early 2000s, moral initiatives in numerous states and were upheld by large majorities. Some focused their efforts in those elections on "soccer moms" or "security moms," but we argued that the "Bible Study Moms" — women who are both religious and married with children — were a key demographic bloc.
As the 2006 elections loom with portentous implications, a review of 2000 and 2004 could be very instructive. Such a review indicates that the married moms could be key to 2006 and 2008 electoral victories.
In the 2000 elections, self-identified evangelicals represented a large portion of the undecided vote: 46% of all undecided voters at the end of the summer were Evangelicals. At that time looking only at women, nearly one-third, 28% of the undecided vote, were evangelical women (mostly married mothers).
A poll conducted for us in late July 2004 by Wirthlin Worldwide provided more information about the views of American women and the Bible Study Moms. The survey canvassed 1,000 adult Americans, including 365 evangelical voters, 202 women and 163 men. At that time, things didn’t look good for President Bush because 52% of "born-again" women said that the country was on the "wrong track." Even more surprising was the response of those women who said that family issues were more important to them than other issues: 53% of these women — women who were ordinarily Bush supporters — also thought the country was on the wrong track.
As we looked closer, however, among those who thought family issues were more important than other issues, only just over half (56%) were planning to vote the same party that they did in 2000. So, the Republican candidate was destined to win 40% of these voters with 15% going to the Democratic candidate. However, another 5% of family issue voters planned to switch away from the Republicans, and among new voters whose main concern in electing a president were family issues, the two candidates found themselves in a statistical dead heat — 11% for Bush and 10% for Kerry.
So what about those unmarried female voters? CWA’s polling showed that while indeed 43% of single women didn’t vote in 2000, those who did vote were split evenly 25% for Bush and 27% for Gore.
Kerry/Edwards were favored in 2004 among single women with 44% of their vote. However, this group of women was not a lock for their camp. The votes of women who were "probably" or "leaning" for either camp evenly split, 11% for Bush/Cheney and 12% for Kerry/Edwards.
It is clear that Kerry could not count on these votes: surprisingly, nearly one-quarter (24%) of single women considered family issues more important than other issues. And over one-third (31%) of swing voters put primacy on family issues.
A pressure group organized by a Democratic consultant, Women’s Voices, Women’s Votes, targeted the 22 million unmarried women who did not vote in 2000 as an unmobilized voting bloc for the 2004 election. Another left-wing group, Get Out Her Vote, said, "This election will decide the fate of issues central to women’s lives," citing the usual suspects: "reproductive rights, civil rights, global peace, women’s economic equality, and the protection of environmental resources."
Did all women call these issues "central" in that election?
Throughout the presidential campaign of 2000, CWA tracked the group that we called the Bible Study Moms. They unwaveringly trended toward the conservative issues. In a close campaign, with an ever-vanishing block of undecided voters, this was an important group of women for campaigns to target.
Not surprisingly, these women were most concerned about homeland security. This corroborated other poll findings about a female focus on security.
However, a surprising nuance emerged from our polling. We are convinced that the same situation prevails for the 2006 campaign.
Family issues in the 2000 election cycle were dominated by gay marriage, abortion, stem-cell research and sex education. But among those voters who said family issues were most important to them, 41% said the types of judges likely to be appointed were most important to their candidate selection. This issue typically received very little attention. Even with the illness of Chief Justice Rehnquist, there was little focus on the issue of judicial appointments. The one exception was in the pro-family movement where voters demonstrated political knowledge in recognizing the importance of judicial appointments. In fact, both married and single women chose judicial selection as a top family issue.
Among GOP voters, a majority, 53%, said that family issues were more important than other issues like economics, health care and security.
Fully 61% of these family issue voters picked gay marriage as their most important concern.
After-the-fact in election 2000, commentators were surprised at the growing importance of the evangelical voting bloc. The Bush camp acknowledged that if the evangelical voters who were pro-Bush had not stayed home, the election would not have been close in 2000.
Further, evangelicals in the 2004 election solidly supported the president; in the hottest battleground state, Ohio, 70% to 30% of evangelicals favored Bush.
Given the importance of the 2006 election, politicians would be remiss not to note the importance of evangelicals — especially married mothers. They could determine the winners in key races, by voting or not, by their assessment of political stances on the social conservative issues (gay marriage, abortion, stem-cell research, and abstinence education).
Wise politicians won’t let the married moms’ support melt away.