Women and the 2016 Elections

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With the fall political campaigns now in full swing, a recent poll of voters commissioned by American Women[1] indicates that critical voting blocs of women in the electorate—including millennial women, women of color, and unmarried women—will be a force in this year’s election.  These women have a clear point of view when it comes to their priorities and the issues that matter to them when they head to the ballot box, and candidates can benefit from paying attention to them as they communicate with voters this fall.

While the electorate as a whole sees economic concerns as the most important issue, these women express deeper concerns about economic stresses in their daily life; and as a result, they are more likely to emphasize issues and support policies that address their concerns.  And while these women also have concerns about security issues, their fears tend to focus more locally on gun violence and racial profiling issues than on the issues of terrorism and threats from immigrants and refugees.

The agenda that resonates with these crucial blocs of women voters is well-defined:  they want their elected leaders and candidates to focus on strengthening their economic security, including equal pay for women, job training, college affordability, and paid sick and family leave. They also want leaders who will protect their access to reproductive health care; and they want leaders who will take action to address the gun violence epidemic.

The following memo is based on a national online survey of 1,000 registered voters, including an oversample of 200 women who identify as independent in partisan beliefs and voting behavior, weighted to be representative of registered voters nationally.  The survey was conducted from August 19-25, 2016.

Women view economic concerns as more important than security in this election

Voters view the economy as the more important issue than national security in the November elections by a 61-38 percent margin.  Both men (63 - 37 percent economy/national security) and women (60 - 39 percent economy/national security) believe that economic issues outweigh security by similar margins.  Additionally, growing blocs of influential women voters—including millennial women, women of color, and unmarried women—express a stronger support for economics as the dominant issue in the elections.  The intensity of the preference for a focus on the economy is particularly strong among women of color—73% of whom believe that the economy is the most important issue this election year. 

Figure 1: Economy versus National Security concerns, by subgroup

Women view the economy as the biggest problem facing both the country and their own families. However, for key groups of women, their personal economic situation and concerns outpace other worries by larger margins.

Given that women volunteer economic issues as their top problem, it is not surprising that they are more likely to see economic issues as top priorities for Congress and government to address in the next two years. Overall, voters prioritize protecting retirement benefits and addressing the federal deficit as biggest priorities, followed by protecting threats from terrorism and Zika and tackling gun violence.  

However, there are different trends among the emerging blocs of women voters. 

Figure 2: Top 4 most important things for Congress or the government to focus on in the next two years, by subgroup

 

Total RVs

Women

Mill. Women

Women of Color

Unmarried Women

Protecting retirement benefits, like Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security

35

33

14

22

29

Reducing the federal deficit and government spending

33

25

23

17

21

Protect the country from terrorism and threats like Zika

26

25

21

20

22

Prevent gun violence by requiring mandatory background checks

20

21

24

29

23

Top security concerns for women: gun violence, terrorism, and racial profiling

While women view the economy as most important in this election, this does not mean that they are not also worried about security. Their fears, however, are not solely centered on terrorism. They also center on threats like gun violence, mass shootings and racial profiling. Fears about illegal immigration and refugees fall into the bottom tier of security concerns for voters across the board, including various cohorts of women voters.  Women of color express far more serious concerns about gun violence and profiling mistreatment than any other security threats; millennial women and unmarried women are also more likely to be “very concerned” about these issues, though they also worry about terrorist attacks on American soil.

Figure 3: Level of concern about issues by subgroup

 

% Very Concerned

 

Total RVs

 

Women

Mill. Women

Women of Color

Unmarried Women

Gun violence and mass shootings

59

62

61

79

66

Terrorist attacks from groups like ISIS on American soil

56

61

51

62

57

Racial profiling and mistreatment of people of color by law enforcement

38

42

49

75

49

Illegal immigration and refugees coming into this country.

36

34

22

21

28

Abuse of opioids and prescription drugs in communities

29

31

30

42

33

Zika or other public health issues

24

28

28

37

31

Physical violence from a romantic partner or loved one

18

21

22

35

23

Sexual harassment in the workplace

15

18

18

29

20

These target blocs of women provide clear direction on who they trust and how they want to see these security issues handled by their leaders:

A clear agenda for making voting decisions

For these emerging target blocs of women, there is a clear separation on issues when it comes to making voting decisions.  The women rank addressing gun violence, ensuring equal pay for women, and providing paid sick leave for workers as most important in their voting decisions, when compared against other issues like immigration and national security.  The top three issues are consistent among these blocs of women, with much larger gaps between the top tier and second tier issues than voters overall.

Figure 4: Most important issue when it comes to making decisions about voting, by subgroup

 

% 1-3

 

Total RVs

 

Women

Mill. Women

Women of Color

Unmarried Women

Requiring background checks to purchase guns and passing a ban on assault weapons

61

64

66

70

62

Making women and families more economically secure by ensuring equal pay for equal work

52

61

63

69

65

Supporting parents who work by providing paid sick days, paid family and medical leave, and affordable childcare

46

51

62

60

53

Maintaining the U.S. commitment to our NATO allies in Europe

42

35

28

23

27

Increase funding to combat Zika and other public health epidemics

32

33

32

29

28

Building a wall along the Mexico border to stop illegal immigrants from entering this country

25

21

16

16

23

Preventing Muslims from entering the United States

24

20

16

11

21

Strengthening laws to protect employees from sexual harassment and violence in the workplace

18

16

17

21

21

Women strongly support policies addressing gun violence, women’s reproductive health, and economic well-being

Falling closely in line with the issues driving voting decisions, millennial women, women of color, and unmarried women show strong support for a package of policies that address their economic concerns, as well as tackle important issues on guns and reproductive health care. First, these women are more likely to strongly support policies that speak to strengthening the economic standing for women and families, including equal pay for women, job training, paid family leave, affordable college, childcare, and long term care:

Tied to this economic agenda, women in these key demographics also strongly support protecting access to reproductive health care and birth control:

And, they demand action on guns, reacting favorably to any proposal that bucks the status quo:

These women react negatively to just two policies offered: sending a coalition of U.S. and allied troops to Syria to combat ISIS and blocking all immigration from countries affected by terrorism.  While voters overall only slightly support these proposals, the key blocs of women oppose both proposals.

Figure 5: Policies favored by subgroup

 

RVs

Women

Mill. Women

Women of Color

 

Unmarried Women

 

%

Strongly favor

%
Total favor

% Strongly favor

%

Total favor

%

Strongly favor

%
Total favor

%

Strongly favor

%
Total favor

%

Strongly favor

%
Total favor

GUNS

62

78

68

87

69

90

76

93

67

85

EQUAL PAY

57

89

69

94

78

95

88

95

75

96

WOMEN'S HEALTH

54

80

65

87

65

86

80

92

71

89

REPRO HEALTH

50

76

58

86

76

95

69

94

67

91

JOB TRAINING

52

91

56

93

59

94

74

96

62

94

COLLEGE DEBT

51

84

60

90

66

90

74

91

65

94

PAID FAMILY LEAVE

42

77

56

84

75

95

77

97

65

91



[1] Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research conducted a national online survey of 800 registered voters, with an oversample of 200 self-identified independent women voters for a total sample size of 1,000. The survey was conducted from August 19-25, 2016.

 

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