Last week, Democrats in the Senate forced an unsuccessful vote on the Paycheck Fairness Act, a largely political move in the generally dysfunctional Senate meant to shore up support among women voters.
The vote underscores the outsize role women voters — particularly independent women — will play in determining the 2012 elections. They could also provide a crucial boost several female candidates hoping to grow the ranks of women in Congress.
Findings from a new focus group are shedding light on what polls have already shown throughout the cycle: that Democrats and women candidates have a leg up among women voters while Mitt Romney and Republicans face an uphill battle in winning over women.
Commissioned by EMILY’s List, the PAC that works to elect pro-choice, Democratic women, liberal pollster Lisa Grove conducted two online focus groups over three days with women in six battleground states: Missouri, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Nevada, Wisconsin and Massachusetts. Participants were registered, independent voters who are undecided about 2012 on national and state-level races.
The women in the groups showed anger over Republican policies, including opposing fair pay legislation and reductions to Medicare and Medicaid benefits.
“This is really big and important to me,” one woman said told the focus group. “It would really hurt people.” Other women were more dramatic, asking how Republicans in Congress “sleep at night” and calling the policies “bullshit.’
Women were incredulous that Republicans had opposed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act — their reactions: “How is this even still an issue?” “Why would any decent human being fight against this?” and “What is this the stone age?”
Republican actions to limit access to birth control earlier this year provoked similar reactions.
There’s also reason for EMILY’s List in particular to be giddy about the findings. Women said they were tired of having “old” and “male” politicians in Washington. Instead, they said they wanted to see more representatives who were “collaborative, listeners” and “nurturing” who could “show our children it’s not just a man’s world.”
EMILY’s List says it is drawing on the findings to craft campaign messaging and outreach. But it also shows more broadly where Democrats can succeed with this crucial group by tying Romney to House Republicans and the policies they both pushed over the last two years. “Our task ahead is to make sure that every single Democrat, independent and moderate Republican woman in this country knows what this Republican social agenda is,” EMILY’s List President Stephanie Schriock told reporters during a conference call Wednesday.
But Democratic candidates are not without their vulnerabilities, including “concern about spending” among voters that could sway them toward Republican candidates bent on slashing government services, Grove told TPM on the conference call. Democrats need to make sure there’s “responsible conversations around debt and deficit,” she said.
“I believe that Romney is going to have to be fighting for these women who are not completely red but pink in terms of their partisanship,” Grove said. “He’s gonna have to be fighting for these women and holding onto this real estate for much longer than he’s gonna want to.”
Pema Levy is a News Writer at TPM covering the 2012 election. Before coming to TPM, Pema was an assistant editor at The American Prospect where she wrote about politics and the economy.