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Women Influence U.S. Politics


U.S. women voters gave Democratic presidential contender, New York Senator Hillary Clinton a narrow victory in the New Hampshire primary election, days after giving Republican presidential hopeful, former Arkansas governor, Mike Huckabee a win in the Iowa caucuses. But many analysts say women voters are not a monolithic block.

According to various pollsters, more than half of those who voted in the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primary were women. In Iowa, single, Democratic women favored Illinois Senator Barak Obama, while married, Republican women identified with Mike Huckabee's evangelical religious background. In the New Hampshire primary, older women helped swing the vote in Senator Clinton's favor.

Some analysts suggest that women voters who originally mobilized to support Hillary Clinton in Iowa backed Barak Obama instead. But Frank Newport, Editor-in-Chief of the Gallup Poll and Vice President of the Gallup Organization in Princeton, New Jersey, says women, who represent an important constituency, do not necessarily vote as a single bloc.

"They are somewhat more important than men [voters] because there are more of them and they are a huge bloc. But I don't know that in this election there is any group of women that is more or less likely to be important than in any other election. But there are different types of women in America today. It's not monolithic," says Newport. "There's over a 100-million women and you wouldn't expect them all to be the same. A religious, married woman in America today is likely to be Republican. An unmarried, unreligious woman is likely to be Democratic. So there are lots of variations in this large, large group of women in America."

A Diverse Female Electorate

U.S. female voters include married women, working mothers and single mothers on welfare, widows, single and divorced women, and lesbians. While each of these groups can have different concerns, some analysts say most women base their support for a political candidate on the issues he or she advocates rather than on the candidate's gender.

Victoria Budson, Executive Director of the Women and Public Policy Program at Harvard University, says women voters consistently focus on issues that are meaningful to their lives. "Those issues break down as follows: Health care, economics, the environment and job security. What we see is that women want to make sure that the things that their families need, including education, will be represented effectively by their elected leaders. And that's what women vote on," says Budson.

Other factors, such as religion, helped shape the female vote in Iowa and New Hampshire, as political scientist John Fortier of the American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research in Washington points out. "Female voters are significantly more Democratic than male voters. And Republican voters are slightly more male than female. But married women tend to be more Republican, so that Mike Huckabee was the beneficiary of the highest percentage of the female voters in Iowa. Mike Huckabee is appealing to religious voters and women are somewhat more religious than men. And you don't see that difference as much in New Hampshire. But again, New Hampshire is not as religious," says Fortier.

In addition to religion, Fortier says women in Iowa and New Hampshire voted along marital and age lines. "In this election, we haven't seen a great difference in the [female] married-unmarried character. But that masks one difference: Single women who are older are Hillary Clinton supporters. Single women who are younger and not yet married are Barak Obama supporters."

Women voters in New Hampshire tipped the scales in favor of Hillary Clinton after her third place finish in Iowa. The New York Senator rebounded in New Hampshire with 46 percent of the female vote, according to Frank Newport of the Gallup Organization.

"Why that was the case, we don't know for sure. It could just be that women voters in New Hampshire are different. But also, there's been a lot of discussion of the fact that there was an extremely widely played video of Hillary Clinton on the verge of tears. And certainly there's at least a reasonable hypothesis that that video might have affected female voters, made them more inclined to vote for Hillary Clinton," says Newport.

The Presidential Vote

Whatever motivated women in New Hampshire to throw their support behind Senator Clinton after her upset in Iowa remains unclear. But for Frank Newport, Hillary Clinton is the first viable, female presidential candidate in U.S. history and holds the key to how women voters might influence the 2008 presidential election. "She [i.e., Clinton] should have, based on our data, an edge among female voters that a usual Democrat would not. Now, is she able to parlay this to victory, in terms of getting the Democratic nomination and in winning the general election? That's the real question."

While many women may not vote for Hillary Clinton and many African American women may not vote for Barak Obama, Sally Kenney, Director of the University of Minnesota's Center on Women and Public Policy, says the female vote historically has benefited the Democratic Party. "What the lessons from the last 25 years have been is that the Democrats do best when, as President Bill Clinton did [in the 1990s], women vote at a higher rate for the Democratic Party than men. And Clinton had an enormous gender gap. Whereas Republicans do better when they can keep that gender gap really, really small, when they can keep women voting very similarly to men," says Kenney.

With millions of registered women who did not vote in the 2004 presidential election expected to participate this year, most analysts say women could cast the swing vote that will determine the November 4th presidential election.

This story was first broadcast on the English news program, VOA News Now. For other Focus reports click here.

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