Married mothers in two competitive presidential states rate Republican nominee Mitt Romney better at dealing with the nation’s economic challenges than President Barack Obama, even as they side with the incumbent on reproductive rights and say he best understands their problems and struggles.
A Bloomberg News Swing Voter poll in Ohio and Virginia reveals an opening for Romney to win a key demographic that could sway the presidential election -- married mothers, who are disproportionately concerned about unemployment and consider the Republican best at creating jobs, handling gasoline prices, and reviving the housing market.
These women, who comprised one in six voters and narrowly backed Obama in 2008, now give Romney a small lead even though they see the president as more in tune with their concerns about federal funding for the family-planning organization Planned Parenthood, required insurance coverage for birth control, and abortion rights.
“I’m pro-choice. I’m pro-woman. I’m a feminist. But I have five kids, and how I vote affects them, so it’s not just about me,” said Wendy Wingett, 49, a poll respondent from Dayton, Ohio, who plans to vote for Romney.
Wingett, a stay-at-home mother whose husband works at a coal-fired plant slated to close next year, said she will choose the candidate she believes will create jobs and strengthen the military.
“There’s no point in me voting for abortion if people are unemployed, if the economy stays this bad, and if we’re still going through all this chaos in the Middle East. It seems so insignificant right now,” Wingett said in a follow-up interview.
The survey findings help explain a broader trend now emerging in national and swing-state polls that show Romney closing the gap against Obama after an Oct. 3 debate performance that partisans on both sides said was won by the challenger.
“What he did right was to speak to bigger economic themes. He talked about protecting the middle class, not doing anything to cause a middle-class tax increase and emphasizing, ‘This is my policy, this is my pledge,’” said J. Ann Selzer of West Des Moines, Iowa-based Selzer & Co., who directed the telephone poll.
“If this group is in fact a harbinger, there is work to be done a month out for Obama, as with the total electorate. He needs to keep his eye on the ball of what people are thinking about,” said Selzer.
In the poll conducted Oct. 4-7, married moms supported Romney over Obama 50 percent to 44 percent in Ohio and 50 percent to 45 percent in Virginia.
The poll suggests that these voters’ presidential choice correlates to their employment situation, with those who work full-time for pay backing Obama while those who don’t overwhelmingly pick Romney in both states.
The margin of error for the telephone survey of 377 female likely voters in Ohio who are married with children aged 18 and younger was plus or minus 5.1 percentage points. The margin of error for the poll of 400 voters with the same profile in Virginia was plus or minus 4.9 percentage points.
It’s a group whose significance outweighs its numbers because these voters have shifted between parties in past elections. Romney must win them to have a shot at defeating the incumbent. Married mothers made up 15 percent of the electorate in 2008 and gave Obama a slight edge.
The president won single women -- a group two and a half times as large -- in 2008 and continues to hold an advantage with them, while men were split between Obama and his Republican opponent at the time, Senator John McCain of Arizona.
The overriding concern of married women -- as with all voters -- is jobs and unemployment, with 46 percent in Ohio and 44 percent in Virginia calling it the most important issue facing the country now. The federal deficit came a distant second, with 12 percent in Ohio and 22 percent in Virginia calling it the most important topic.
Married moms saw virtues in both candidates, predicting Obama would be best at improving their ability to pay for their children’s education and child care, and Romney at helping them balance their family budget and save enough for a comfortable retirement. More than two in five rated balancing the family budget and saving for retirement as worries “right now,” a larger proportion than the other challenges.
“The things they’re the most worried about are the things they think Romney could do the most for, and what has traction with them is the overall economic argument that Romney has won since the debate,” Selzer said.
Romney was also rated best at being tough on terrorism and dealing with the threat of a nuclear Iran. They chose Obama as better on providing more economic opportunities for women.
Janet Elswick of Grundy, Virginia, backed Obama in 2008 and says she may do so again even though she’s frustrated over the slow pace of economic growth. Yet recently, she said, she’s begun considering switching to Romney because of his advocacy for coal -- a key part of the economy in her area -- and tax cuts.
“Obama has handled things well during his presidency and I do think he is the one who’s more in touch with what people are going through,” said Elswick, 52. “But seems like the more I listen to Romney, I like him better.”
What’s “holding me back” from supporting the Republican, she added, is concern about his promise to repeal the 2010 health care law -- which lets her keep her 22-year-old son on her insurance plan and guarantees her child afflicted with scoliosis can get coverage -- and his vice presidential running mate Paul Ryan’s Medicare proposal, which she said “scares me.”
Married mothers in Ohio back Romney even though 55 percent say the auto bailout he opposed -- which Obama helped implement -- was a good thing for their manufacturing-heavy state. In Virginia, where the defense industry accounts for a large share of the economy, 57 percent sided with Romney’s call for more defense spending rather than Obama’s call for limiting such expenditures to pare the deficit.
While the respondents consider Romney better at creating jobs, the poll suggests they are also skeptical of his tax cut-plan. Pluralities of married mothers likely to vote said they agree with Obama that Romney’s tax cuts would favor the rich and come at the expense of educational programs, rather than with Romney’s argument that they would create jobs without adding to the deficit.
Clinton and Bush
The poll indicates that married moms in both states have a much higher opinion of former President Bill Clinton than they do of Obama -- with 60 percent in both states rating the former Democratic president favorably, more than 10 points better than the incumbent. Former Republican President George W. Bush’s standing with this group is slightly less popular, with 57 percent in Ohio and 52 percent in Virginia rating him favorably, while Romney is viewed positively by 54 percent in Ohio and 52 percent in Virginia.
These women, by large margins, viewed First Lady Michelle Obama more favorably than Romney’s wife, Ann, and said she did the better job at the party’s national convention than did Ann Romney at appealing to women in her nationally televised speech.
Of all the politicians tested, married moms had the most positive view of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.