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    Friday, October 14, 2005

    Women and Voting

    Reviews of
    What Women Really Want: How American Women Are Quietly Erasing Political, Racial, Class, and Religious Lines to Change the Way We Live
    appear on Alternet (by Ruth Rosen) and MSNBC (via The Today Show).

    For most of the 20th century, women voted according to their ethnic, class or racial interests. In 1980, however, the first real gender gap appeared. Men cast 54 percent of their votes for Reagan, compared with 46 percent of women, creating an 8-point gender gap. This partisan disparity continued and reached its zenith in the 1996 election, when Bill Clinton won the women's vote by 11 points. It nearly vanished when John Kerry won the female vote over George W. Bush by a mere 3 points.

    Had more single women voted, many analysts have suggested, Kerry would have won the race. Instead, so-called "security moms" reelected a man who they thought would secure the lives of their families.

    The day after the 2004 election, two unlikely collaborators -- Republican pollster Kellyanne Conway and Democratic pollster Celinda Lake -- decided to track the trends and opinions of American women.

    Their survey data, translated into accessible prose by writer Catherine Whitney, resulted in a book, What Women Really Want: How American Women Are Quietly Erasing Political, Racial, Class, and Religious Lines to Change the Way We Live (Free Press), whose subtitle is maddeningly misleading. Nothing in their research (which included interviews, focus groups and polls) proves that women are erasing the political, racial, class and religious lines that divide them. Nor does their research reveal whether or how women will vote in the next elections.

    Because the real purpose of this book was to determine precisely what levers women will pull. Gee, I guess they should have just published a giant poll.

    But, if you are interested in the book's analysis, here are the "types" the writers considered, according to MSNBC:

    Feminist Champion: A politically engaged liberal, this highly educated, upwardly mobile woman is an activist for women's and children's issues. She tends to be more secular than others and holds strongly pro-choice views. She represents a mix of ages (the largest percentage being between 40 and 49) and she may be married or single. Devoted to her career and community, she is strongly motivated by values of equality and opportunity. You might find her at a pro-choice rally, a benefit for third world women, or working on a political action committee.

    Suburban Caretaker: She is the lynchpin of home and community, typically a white, suburban wife and mother in her thirties and forties. A comfortable family income allows her to stay home with the kids, if she chooses, or to work part-time. Spirituality, and often religion, are important to her, and she views herself as the caretaker of the emerging generation, making her deeply invested in the moral standards of her community and nation. She focuses on education and health care and now tends to be a conservative “values” voter. You might find her at a PTA meeting, organizing a church event, or cheering her son or daughter at the fieldhouse or dance recital.

    Alpha-Striver: She didn't get the memo that women can't “have it all,” and she is determined to excel both professionally and personally. Her high income, investments, and advanced education give her a wide array of options. She is likely to be a “junior senior,” between the ages of fifty and sixty-four, either married or single, and often a mom. Relatively liberal and engaged politically, she views herself as an agent of change. You might find her at a corporate conference, a county board planning meeting, or taking her high schooler on college interviews.

    Multicultural Maverick: Young, single, urban, and multiethnic (White, Latina, African American, Asian), she is an individualist rather than a joiner, attracted to entrepreneurial endeavors. Her childless status gives her greater freedom, although she is strongly connected to her parents and siblings and may live at home. Although she tends to be liberal in her political views, she is somewhat indifferent about voting, and she distrusts most politicians. You might find her at the health club, coffee bar, or bistro, hanging out with friends, at a family barbecue, or attending an Earth Day concert.

    Religious Crusader: Deeply committed to faith and family, she is more likely to view issues through the prism of “right vs. wrong” than “right vs. left.” A politically active Christian conservative or church-going Catholic, this woman in her forties is financially upscale, married, and a mother. If she works outside the home it is in her own business or in a career that provides a great deal of flexibility. You are most likely to see her at a religious service, a pro-life rally, or home schooling her children.

    Waitress Mom: Usually a blue collar or service worker, this middle class mom is most concerned about achieving balance in her life and greater educational and financial opportunities for her children. While the majority of this group is married, the remaining third is split between single, divorced, and widowed. She tends to be a conservative-leaning moderate, a reliable voter who may “swing” to support candidates who address her core concerns of health, security and the economy. She considers herself a person of faith, but she does not regularly attend religious services. You are most likely to see her working a forty-hour week, grocery shopping at night, and taking her kids to the mall on weekends.

    Senior Survivor: This over-65 grandmother is security- and health-conscious and may be either financially struggling or financially set, depending on her retirement means and monthly prescription bills. Politically centrist, she votes in nearly every election, and tends to support incumbents and the status quo. She may be married, widowed, or single. If her health is good, you might find her taking care of her grandchildren, getting involved in community organizations, working or volunteering part-time, and traveling. If she is frail or in poor health, you are most likely to find her at home, living with her children or in an assisted-living apartment — relying on her daughter to take her shopping and to medical appointments.

    Alienated Single: Economically marginal and politically disengaged, this woman tends to be young — under 45. Divorced or never married, she may or may not have children. She is the least religious and the least educated of any group. Lacking a meaningful affiliation with a religious organization or supportive community, she tends to fly under the radar. She feels that she has little control over her future and worries about how she will take care of herself as she ages and is faced with health issues. Although she identifies herself as politically independent, she is usually not registered to vote. You are likely to see her in a low-wage job, rental apartment, and riding the bus or subway instead of driving. She is the least likely to be an agent of change, but she may be the beneficiary of changes others produce.


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