In their quests for November victory, President Barack Obama and Mitt Romney both target a critical subset of the female vote: married women with children.
The BGOV Barometer profiles those voters and how they’ve changed in the past 20 years, growing wealthier and better educated. They are less likely to vote Democratic than female voters as a whole. Obama won married mothers by 4 percentage points in 2008 compared with his 13-percentage-point margin among all women, exit polls show.
“The swing group of married mothers is critical for the Republicans because the Obama advantage among single women is so large,” said Ange-Marie Hancock, associate professor of political science and gender studies at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles.
In 1992, the “Year of the Woman” when female representation in Congress surged almost 70 percent, Democrat Bill Clinton won the White House with a plurality of women voters overall, while losing the married-mother vote by a single percentage point. Obama won’t win this year if he loses that voting group by more than 5 percentage points, Hancock said.
Bloomberg compiled a statistical profile of the married-mother vote using data from the Census Bureau, the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the Pew Research Center and exit polls with analysis from Selzer & Co., a Des Moines, Iowa-based polling firm.
Compared with their 1992 counterparts, today’s married mothers earn more money and have more schooling. On average, they have annual household incomes of more than $70,000, a 14 percent increase from 1992. About 40 percent have at least a bachelor’s degree, compared with 22 percent two decades ago.
They work more hours and contribute more household income. They are older when they marry and when they first give birth. At both the workplace and in politics, more people in power look like them.
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, said Christine Percheski, who assisted Bloomberg with the analysis and who teaches sociology at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois. The changes mean married mothers have a different view of their place in society, she said.
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 because they’ve become a more privileged, “select” group, Percheski said. They are half as likely as women in general to live in poverty or lack health insurance, she said.
“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 more reliable voters than unmarried women, whom studies have found tend to have a Democratic tilt, according to the Women’s Voices Women Vote Action Fund.
Registered married female voters with children under 18 supported Romney 50 percent to 42 percent for Obama, according to a Quinnipiac University Poll released July 11. That compares with Obama’s lead in a Bloomberg National Poll conducted in June, which showed all married mothers backed the Democratic president 50 percent to 46 percent.
Mother of Three
Deborah Snyder embodies the married mother both presidential camps are wooing -- and how hard it is to capture her attention. A 37-year-old mother of three boys under age six, Snyder works as a civil engineer at a female-owned firm in Denver, the capital of Colorado, among swing states that could determine the election’s outcome.
Snyder was a registered Republican until switching parties and voting for Obama four years ago, split her ballot between parties in the 2010 midterm elections and is unsure how she’ll vote in November. She’s fed up with the pace of the economic recovery, yet she’s unsure Obama is to blame.
Like thousands in her position, Snyder’s efforts to balance work, childcare and a personal life leave little bandwidth for politics. For months, she has submerged herself in “intentional isolation,” a backlash from what she sees as the increasingly polarized nature of politics.
She canceled her newspaper subscription last year. 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.
“Politicians are more worried about their campaign, their party and their win than what’s best for the American people,” she said. “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.”