Women Returning to Democratic Party, Poll Finds

By Brian Faler
Special to The Washington Post
Tuesday, May 10, 2005

The gender gap is now 25 years old and, according to recent polling, it is alive and well.

A Democratic polling memo released yesterday found that women, who voted for President Bush last year in large numbers, have begun migrating back to their traditional home in the Democratic Party as the public's agenda has shifted from homeland security and terrorism to domestic concerns such as jobs and the economy.

There has long been a gender gap between the parties, with women tending to vote Democratic in disproportionate numbers. Bush all but closed that gap last year, losing the female vote to Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.) by three percentage points. But the memo pointed to a March survey that found women favoring Democrats when asked which party's candidates they would support if congressional elections were held today.

The memo, released by Lake Snell Perry Mermin & Associates Inc., found women picked unnamed Democratic congressional candidates over Republicans by a 13-point margin. It also found that several key groups of women who voted Republican last year are now evenly or almost evenly split between the parties. Married women are now evenly split, while white women favor Democrats by three percentage points. Kerry lost both groups by 11 points.

"Homeland security and terrorism dominated the public's security agenda for several years following September 11th," the memo said. "However, the current focus appears to have shifted from safeguarding against terrorism to a stronger emphasis on issues that hit home financially. In dozens of recent focus groups among many different cohorts of women, concerns like retirement, health care and economic security are trumping the sorts of homeland security concerns that dominated women's issue agenda before the last election."

Some pollsters questioned the survey's methodology, objecting to its comparison between actual candidates' performances at the polls and the theoretical takes of unnamed candidates. Democratic pollster Celinda Lake, who issued the memo, defended the methodology, saying, "There's not really anything else we have."

Republican pollster Kellyanne Conway said that she could not comment on the specifics of the polls but that she agreed with the general thrust of Lake's findings. "Women, if left to their own devices, are going to tend and trend Democratic. That is absolutely the case," she said. "Women are still congenitally Democratic -- and I'm the Republican pollster saying that."

The memo, which comes on what experts said is the 25th anniversary of the discovery of the gender gap, found that women are now mostly concerned with economic security (28 percent said it was their number one issue), health care (22 percent), homeland security and terrorism (21 percent), retirement security (15 percent) and crime (6 percent).

"You can't target women three days out from the election," Lake said, referring to the 2006 elections. "Both sides are asking: 'Where are they now?' "

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