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Polls show Obama with big lead among women

Steven R. Hurst

President Barack Obama, polls show, holds a sizable lead over Republican challenger Mitt Romney among women _ the country's largest voting bloc.

That becomes important in any presidential election year not only because there are more women voters but also because a greater percentage of the female population historically cast ballots.

For example, in the 2008 presidential election, in which Obama defeated Sen. John McCain, 60 percent of women voted. Just 55 percent of men went to the polls.

The race this year looks to be very close. With just more than six months remaining before the Nov. 6 election, most polls of all registered voters show Obama and Romney neck-and-neck or with the incumbent holding a slight lead.

But the heft and importance of the women's vote is already showing. Among that group Obama is leading Romney by an average of 11.5 percentage points in six major polls. The same polls of male voters show the candidates statistically even in three surveys and with Romney up by an average of 6.6 percentage points in the other three.

Democratic presidential candidates have enjoyed an advantage with women voters for the past two decades, and political scientists credit that to the party's approach to broad social issues, education, questions of war and peace and economic policy as it affects women and the family.

That's particularly true in these very difficult economic times, said Robin Lauerman, a professor of politics at Messiah College.

"There has been a feminization of poverty," she said. "Typically, women make up 80 to 90 percent of single-head-of-households in poverty."

The Obama advantage among women is compounded this year by Romney's having adopted deeply conservative positions on many issues as he courted the ultraconservative Republican base in a brutal contest for the nomination.

Perhaps most damaging in the eyes of women voters will have been his backing for a Republican spending plan written by Rep. Paul Ryan. It calls for deep cuts in government support for many programs that keep an economic floor under poor and low-income Americans, women especially.

The budget proposal does not, however, stop at cuts that affect voters in the lower socio-economic realm. It also alters the government's Medicare insurance program for Americans age 65 and above. Some estimates show the changes would shift the burden of paying for health care to the elderly.

That is particularly important to older women, said Thomas Brogan, political science professor at Albright College. On average, women live longer than men and rely more heavily on the health insurance program that has been a part of the social contract in the United States for nearly a half century.

Obama also has found an advantage in contrast to Republican positions on issues such as birth control and invasive ultrasound procedures Republicans in some states sought to institute before a woman could have an abortion. Some Democrats quickly accused Republicans of conducting a "war on women."

That line of attack blew up into a political storm after offensive remarks made by a conservative radio talk-show personality about a female law student who publicly joined a public battle. The student became a spokesperson for women concerned that birth control not be dropped from health insurance coverage provided to employees of religious institutions, Catholic church-operated hospitals for example.

The contraceptives issue arose from a ruling by the Obama administration that would have forced such institutions to include coverage of birth control as part of their health insurance package for employees. Contraception runs counter to Catholic religious teaching.

Many conservatives and Roman Catholic bishops attacked the Obama administration ruling as an infringement of the freedom of religion and forced the White House to compromise. In the end, health insurance companies that cover workers at such institutions were required to provide contraceptive coverage without billing the religious institutions.

Desperate to diminish the president's standing with women, Republicans seized earlier this month on comments by a Democratic strategist, a woman who said on cable television that Romney's wife, Ann, had never worked a day in her life. She was trying to criticize the multimillionaire Romney for being out of touch and relying on Ann for briefings about women's concerns.

The strategist, Hilary Rosen, was inundated with Republican counterattacks that she was dismissing the role of stay-at-home mothers.

Ann Romney took to Twitter for the first time to respond:

"I made a choice to stay home and raise five boys. Believe me, it was hard work," Ann Romney wrote.

The brouhaha does not seem to have had a lasting effect one way or the other.

The fight to overcome allegations that Republicans are anti-woman made it to the floor of the Senate on Thursday. McCain delivered a stern message that sought to position his party back in the mainstream on women's issues. His speech was in support of an extension and expansion of a law known as the Violence Against Women Act. A deal has been reached in the Senate to update the measure that was first passed in 1994 during the presidency of Democrat Bill Clinton.

"We face an abundance of hard choices. Divisive slogans and declaring phony wars are intended to avoid those hard choices and escape paying a political price for doing so," McCain said.

Whatever benefit Democrats accrued in the flap over contraceptives, political scientist Melody Crowder-Meyer said Obama was able to bolster his campaign organization.

The public dispute "gave the Obama campaign the names and email addresses of a lot of women who were writing in support of his position. They will be a really powerful group as they volunteer and call friends" in get-out-the-vote drives, said the professor at Sewanee: The University of the South.

The Associated Press