First came the mail, at least two pieces a day, little fliers and big, glossy books. Next came the neighborhood canvassers, knocking on the front door of their Falls Church home, almost a half-dozen visits. Then there were the phone calls. So many calls. Three of them on the night before Election Day, all in the same hour, each from President Obama’s campaign, asking to speak with Kristina Cartwright — and not her husband, Jamie.
Does Ms. Cartwright plan to vote? Does she need a ride to her polling place?
“I’ll pick up the phone, and they have no questions about me whatsoever, don’t want to know,” Mr. Cartwright said with a laugh. “I vote. But I might as well be some random guy in the house.”
A 37-year old international development worker and mother of three, Mrs. Cartwright is also a registered independent female voter in a key battleground state. Which makes all the difference.
“It’s weird being targeted, and I didn’t figure it out at first,” she said. “I figured I was just missing the calls that Jamie was getting. But he’s a man and a registered Republican. So he hasn’t gotten any.”
The 2012 presidential campaign was many things: a choice between competing visions for the future of the nation; an anonymous corporate cash-fueled post-Citizens United economic stimulus plan for swing state local television stations; a showdown between a self-disciplined family man who went to Harvard Law and a self-disciplined family man who went to Harvard Law.
In many ways, however, it was primarily a contest for the female portion of the electorate, with Mr. Obama’s campaign attempting to exploit and expand a potentially decisive Democrat-Republican gender gap — the same gap Mitt Romney’s campaign sought to minimize and narrow.
Mr. Obama’s repeated, non-sequiturial mentions of education policy during the first two presidential debates? Mr. Romney’s much-mocked binders of women? Constant talk about abortion and contraception, with Democratic surrogates hyping up a “War on Women” and Republican surrogates scoffing at the same? All part of a bipartisan war for women, including Mrs. Cartwright.
“I think that’s exactly what we’ve seen,” said Jennifer Lawless, director of the Women and Politics Institute at American University. “Virginia is a perfect example. I can’t turn on the television without seeing an ad about how [Republican Senate candidate] George Allen and Mitt Romney will ensure that women will have no rights, ever. And I can’t change the channel without some other woman saying, ‘no, no, no, these guys are actually good.’
“Of course, it’s not that surprising. There has been a gap in every election since the 1980s.”
Minding the gap
The demographic and electoral math is plain. Women make up more than half of the populace. They are more likely to vote than men. While a majority of women have voted for the Democratic candidate in five consecutive presidential elections, a majority of men have done so only twice, in 1992 and 2008.
Why the split between the sexes? Political scientists have found that women are more likely to support social safety-net programs and less likely to support wars and military campaigns than men, two factors that generally favor Democrats. According to both Ms. Lawless and pollster John Zogby, conservative positions on abortion and contraception also have hurt the Republican Party’s appeal with women.
A pre-election Gallup poll of female registered voters in 12 key states found that 39 percent of women ranked abortion as the most important issue for women in the 2012 election, and that 60 percent of those same voters rated government policies on birth control as an extremely or very important issue.
By contrast, registered male voters in the same poll did not include abortion among their top 10 most-important issues.