In an ad backing Mitt Romney for president, a gold band on the main character’s left hand flashes before viewers as she laments a poor economic future for her two children should President Barack Obama win re-election.
That hint to the character’s marital status reveals one of the subsets of voters that both Obama and Romney, his presumptive Republican opponent, are targeting in the 2012 campaign: married women with children.
They are a slice of the electorate that swings between the parties. They also are less likely than the broader female voting population to skew Democratic. Obama won married mothers by 4 percentage points in 2008 compared to his 13-percentage-point margin among the gender as a whole, exit polls show.
“These women are the Republicans’ best shot,” especially in the swing states, said Ange-Marie Hancock, associate professor of political science and gender studies at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles.
In 1992, the so-called “Year of the Woman” when female representation in Congress spiked, Democrat Bill Clinton won the White House with a plurality of women voters overall while losing the married-mother vote by one percentage point. Obama won’t win this year if that margin exceeds five percentage points, Hancock said.
Today’s Married Moms
To create a profile of that targeted female voter and learn how she’s changed in the past 20 years, Bloomberg compiled data from the Census Bureau, Bureau of Labor Statistics, the Pew Research Center and exit polls with analysis from Selzer & Co., a Des Moines, Iowa-based polling firm.
The lifestyle differences that have occurred carry with them an adjusted view by these women of their place in society, said Christine Percheski, who assisted Bloomberg with the analysis and who teaches sociology at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois.
Compared to their 1992 counterparts, today’s married mothers are wealthier and more educated. On average, they have annual household incomes of more than $70,000, a 14 percent increase from 1992, and they are more educated, with 40 percent earning at least a bachelor’s degree, compared to 22 percent two decades ago. They work more hours and contribute more household income. They are older when they walk down the aisle and when they first give birth. At both the workplace and in politics, more people in power look like them.
“It changes the way they view their role as mothers. It changes the way they relate to their husbands and other people,” Percheski said. “It changes what they need from government and it changes what kinds of policies are important to them politically.”
Married mothers today are more likely to have lived on their own and worked more years prior to having children, and thus favor greater independence and identify less with traditional gender roles, she said.
Deborah Snyder embodies the married mother both presidential camps are wooing.
Snyder, 37, is a mother of three boys under the age of six. She earned a bachelor’s degree in Boston before returning to her hometown in a suburb south of Denver to marry her high school sweetheart. She now works as a civil engineer at Entitlement and Engineering Solutions Inc., a female-owned firm in Denver, the capital of Colorado, a state political analysts count among a handful that could determine the election’s outcome.
Split Voting History
Snyder was a registered Republican until switching parties and voting for Obama four years ago. She split her ballot between a Republican congressman and a Democratic senator in the 2010 midterm elections. She’s unsure how she’ll vote in November.
When Obama unveiled his jobs bill last year, Snyder’s frustration reached a tipping point. “It seemed to be a lot of throwing money after money,” she said, adding that she views herself as worse off economically than her parents were at her age and worries that the deficit threatens economic growth. Still, she’s unsure Obama is to blame.
Even more disturbing was the “extreme shift to the right” she watched during the Republican primary season, she said. She disagrees with Romney’s opposition to abortion rights and same-sex marriage, she said, and believes he’ll moderate his positions if elected.
Work, Family, Politics
Like thousands of women in her position, Snyder’s efforts to balance work, childcare and a personal life leaves little bandwidth for politics.
She canceled her newspaper subscription last year after failing to find time to read it. She’s at the office during the day when her home phone rings most with political robocalls. She only turns on her television to watch DVDs, rendering useless the blitz of campaign ads on local stations. On the eve of Colorado’s presidential primary in February, Romney visited her high school alma mater a block from her house -- and she didn’t know it was happening.
For months, Snyder has submerged herself in “intentional isolation,” a backlash from what she sees as the increasingly polarized nature of politics in which fights are commonplace and lawmakers attempt to campaign and negotiate by way of ultimatum.
“The point of politics is to serve the people,” she said. “Politics have become self-serving -- politicians are more worried about their campaign, their party and their win than what’s best for the American people,” she said. “They’re more worried about finding a strategy to get the greatest share of voters than having their beliefs organically get those voters.”
A ‘Select’ Group
While much is made of the so-called marriage gap -- the tendency for marriage to increase the likelihood voters will favor Republicans -- the demographics of married mothers may signify more of a class gap, said Northwestern’s Percheski. Married mothers have become a more privileged, “select” group, she said. They are half as likely to live in poverty or lack health insurance than women in general, she added.
“Because married mothers come from families with higher incomes, they need less of the social protections than some other women, and their financial interests and class interests lie more with the Republicans in terms of things like tax policy,” said Percheski.
They are also a more reliable voter then unmarried women, who studies have found tend to have a Democratic tilt.
Almost half of married mothers, 47 percent, went to the polls in 2010, compared with less than a third of their unmarried counterparts, 30 percent, said Page Gardner, president of the Women’s Voices Women Vote Action Fund.
As in 1992, voter surveys find economic issues identified as the top concerns -- and married mothers, who often control family finances -- are no exception.
According to a June 15-18 Bloomberg National Poll, 48 percent of married moms say jobs and unemployment are their top issues, followed by health care at 15 percent. Fifty-two percent of them agree that the economy will get better if Obama’s policies are given more time to work and 45 percent say a “complete change of course” is needed.
Married moms in the poll favor Obama over Romney, 50 percent to 46 percent, though 68 percent say the president hasn’t delivered the change he promised four years ago.
For Snyder, whose two-income household was buffered from the recession more than those of her single friends, neither Obama nor Romney has convinced her that he deserves her support.
“I just want to hear statements that sound like they came from their gut and not a teleprompter, so I can believe what they’re saying is really what they believe and not just a strategy to win my vote,” she said.