Laurie Kellman? and Jennifer Agiesta
Washington: It’s looking like President Barack Obama may be back in the good graces of women.
His support dropped among this critical constituency just before the new year began and the presidential campaign got under way in earnest. But his standing with female voters is strengthening, polls show, as the economy improves and social issues, including birth control, become a bigger part of the nation’s political discourse.
“Republicans are making a big mistake with this contraception talk, and I’m pretty sure that they are giving [the election] to Obama,” said Patricia Speyerer, 87, of McComb, Miss., a GOP-leaning independent. “It’s a stupid thing.”
The recent furor over whether religious employers should be forced to pay for their workers’ contraception is certainly a factor but hardly the only reason for women warming up to Obama again after turning away from him late last year.
An Associated Press-GfK poll suggests women also are giving the president more credit than men are for the country’s economic turnaround.
Among women, his approval ratings on handling the economy and unemployment have jumped by 10 percentage points since December. Back then, a wide swath of Americans expressed anxiety over the nation’s slow climb out of recession and anger at a government that couldn’t agree on steps to speed things up.
Since then, the unemployment rate has kept declining, and Obama hasn’t been shy about trumpeting it, and analysts say that drop may have resonated particularly with women.
For Obama, there is no more crucial constituency than women. They make up a majority of voters in presidential elections, and a bit more of them identify with his party. He would not be president today without topping Republican John McCain in that group in 2008. And Republicans would need to win a sizable share — more than about 40 percent — of female voters to beat him.
Though the economy remains the top concern among both women and men, an array of social issues — gay marriage, access to birth control and whether cancer research should be kept separate from the issue of abortion — have returned to the nation’s political conversation since December. And both parties have snapped up those issues to awaken their staunchest supporters.
Republicans from Capitol Hill to the presidential campaign trail focused particularly on a requirement in Obama’s health-care law for some religious employers to pay for birth control. Obama then adjusted that policy by instead directing insurance companies to pay for birth control — and Democrats are running with a message that Republicans want to upend long-established rights for women.
“Women are used to making decisions and running their lives,” said Linda Young, president of the National Women’s Political Caucus, which favors abortion rights. “To hear their right to contraception questioned in 2012 is shocking, and it’s gotten a lot of people’s attention.”
Republicans say the economy will again overtake that discussion and it will be clear the GOP offers families more once Republicans choose a nominee, turn their fire from each other to Obama and make their case on issues such as gas prices and the deficit.