The respected Dem firm Democracy Corps has just published an important polling memo that gets right to the heart of why the birth control battle could matter so much in this year’s elections.
The firm’s poll finds that one of the most important factors powering Obama’s gains against likely GOP nominee Mitt Romney has been the President’s improving numbers among unmarried women, a key pillar of the present and future Democratic coalition.
Among this group, Obama now leads Romney by 65-30 — and there’s been a net 18-point swing towards the President among them:
Larger version here. After unmarried women dropped off for Dems in 2010 and were slow to return to the Dem fold in 2011, Obama is now approaching the 70 percent he won among them in 2008.
Unmarried women will be important to Obama’s success at rebuilding his 2008 coalition in time for reelection, something that already seems to be underway, as Ronald Brownstein has demonstrated. The crack Post polling team tells me that the key to understanding this constituency is that it’s complex and diverse; it includes young women who have never married, divorced women, and widows, and it cuts across class, racial, income, and geographic lines.
Various factors — the improving economy; the drawn-out Republican nomination process; the GOP’s sinking approval ratings — already seem to be driving unmarried women back towards Obama. And the pitched battle over birth control could continue to galvanize and unite this group behind him, particularly if Romney is forced to embrace the conservative position. The Greenberg poll also tested the two sides’ position on this issue, and found that 61 percent of unmarried women side with the Democratic one.
Concludes the memo: “We may yet look back on this debate and wonder whether this was a Terri Schiavo moment.”
I don’t know if this debate will have quite that kind of crystalizing effect — one in which an arresting and highly emotional event causes a sudden hardening of mass opinion against a party or ideology. But if Dems play this right, it could encourage the perception that the GOP is backward-looking and lost in a social-issues wilderness, perhaps hastening the already widening gender gap that will be so crucial to the outcome this fall.