First there were the soccer moms. Then there was Sept. 11, 2001, and now these white married women with children have been recast as "security moms" -- a voting group that some analysts broadly predict will exert unique influence in this year's presidential election.
Stories in recent weeks have hailed the distinctiveness and political importance of security moms. But like the now-discredited "NASCAR dads" swing group before them, there is little if any hard evidence that security moms will have a distinctive impact in this election -- or that they even exist as a distinct group, according to the latest Washington Post-ABC News poll and interviews with strategists from both parties.
As the label suggests, security moms purportedly are mothers disproportionately worried about terrorism and security issues. It is a group that is now "part of agenda-setting here," Democratic pollster Celinda Lake said.
But others have found that security moms are not politically unique, nor do they "swing" politically. Instead, they are little different than married men with children on security-related issues, remain reliably conservative and Republican, and have moved in roughly equal proportions with men away from John F. Kerry and toward President Bush in the past six weeks.
According to the latest Washington Post-ABC News poll, married women with children are worried about the same issues that concern other voters. In fact, these women were no more likely than other voters to name terrorism, security or Iraq as their top voting issue.
About one in four married women with children -- 24 percent -- rated terrorism as their major concern. That is virtually identical to the proportion of married men and only slightly higher than the 21 percent of all voters who made terrorism their top voting issue. One in five -- 20 percent -- of all married women with children named Iraq as their major concern; overall, 19 percent said Iraq.
Democratic pollster Anna Greenberg is among those who have tried to debunk the idea that security moms are the source of Kerry's problem among female voters -- or that security moms represent a distinctive bloc of voters.
By Greenberg's analysis, women most likely to be supporting Bush are married and have young children, a group that she said makes up 26 percent of all female voters. "We know that married white women are conservative," she said. "The notion that this is a group that is moving around is false. It's a conservative group of voters -- on security, social issues and taxes."
Greenberg also challenged the assumption that women are more likely than men to cite security as the issue that they care about most. "If you ask women what the most important issue is, it's dominated by economic issues, particularly health care," she said.
Kerry's weakness, Greenberg said, "is among Democratic women, where he's underperforming, and I think it's because they haven't heard about health care and retirement for two months."
Four years ago, Bush split the votes of married women with Al Gore but lost among unmarried women by about 2 to 1. Greenberg said Kerry's challenge is to boost his support among married women. In the latest Post-ABC News poll, Kerry leads Bush 53 percent to 40 percent among single women but he trails Bush by 16 points among married women.
Republican pollster Linda DiVall said Bush has attracted more support from women in part because of the image he projects. "Women see a strong and resourceful leader and haven't figured out where Kerry is on that," she said.
But DiVall agreed that security moms are not an easily identifiable voting bloc, such as single-issue antiabortion voters or what she called "Medicare grandmothers."
"It's not a group where you can say here's a 12 percent voting bloc," she added.