* Obama lead with women slipped after first debate
* "Gender gap" is larger in crucial swing states
* Jobs and economy worry women voters
By Patricia Zengerle
WASHINGTON, Nov 3 Women helped propel Barack
Obama to the White House in 2008, but their flagging enthusiasm
for him reflected in recent polls has created uncertainty about
who will capture the female vote in Tuesday's election.
Four years ago, women voters supported Obama over Republican
John McCain by 56 percent to 43 percent. Among men, the Democrat
led McCain by just 49 percent to 48 percent.
But women's enthusiasm for Obama as president has slipped
this year, making his road to re-election more difficult.
He is narrowly favored to win the female vote, but in many
national polls, the incumbent's lead over Republican Mitt Romney
among likely women voters has dipped to single digits.
Re u ters/Ipsos polling data last week had it at nearly 5
percentage points. He trailed among likely male voters by about
Republicans point to Romney's gains with women since his
strong performance in the first presidential debate on Oct. 3.
Marguerite Hunsinger, 59, of Flagler Beach, Florida, who had
been undecided, said the debate shifted her to Romney's camp.
"I'd been very, very skeptical about Romney," said
Hunsinger, a self-described homemaker. "And I just thought he
acted very presidential and capable, and he had answers that I
agreed with more."
In contrast, she said Obama "was like asleep. ... It felt
like he was just wasn't there."
Romney's camp accuses Democrats of condescending to women by
overemphasizing issues like contraception when polls show men
and women both care more about jobs and the economy.
Democrats note that Obama continues to hold significant
leads among women in the decisive swing states and say the
women's vote will help propel him to victory.
Women comprise more than half of the U.S. electorate, and in
presidential elections, about 7 percent more women vote than
'WOMEN'S ISSUES' BOOST OBAMA
Democrats insist that Obama outshines Romney on many issues
important to female voters, from healthcare to education, equal
pay and fair taxes.
Evelyn Miranda, 47, of Hialeah, Florida, said she had been
undecided, but recently embraced Obama because of his positions
on social issues and insistence that the wealthy pay higher
"He wants to tax people more who make more money. I am
really for that a lot," she said.
Miranda, an artist and teacher, also said she worried that
Republicans might ban abortion, a position with which she
disagrees after experiences with student sexual abuse survivors.
Obama's current support margin among women is not only below
his own 2008 performance but that of Al Gore in the 2000
election. Gore, then the Democratic vice president, narrowly won
the popular vote but lost the Electoral College to Republican
George W. Bush.
"Certainly, team Obama would like to see their national
margin among women higher," said Tufts University political
scientist Richard Eichenberg, who is tracking this year's
gender gap and estimates Obama's lead among women nationally at
8 percentage points.
"In 2008, he had an extra cushion when he won big (+13 among
women), and Gore won narrowly with +11. So I think that they
would like that 8-point number a little higher," Eichenberg
But Obama's standing among women remains strong in the
battleground states he will need to clinch all-important
electoral votes. "He leads among women by large margins in
virtually all the swing states," Eichenberg said.
For example, in Ohio, Eichenberg noted polls during October
showed Obama with a 12-point lead among likely women voters.
Romney's solid showing - and Obama's poor one - in the
first debate in Denver upended the presidential race. Obama had
been building a lead before he and Romney first went
head-to-head. Romney has since gained steadily in the polls.
For the week ended Sept. 30, just before the debate,
Reuters/Ipsos poll data showed Obama leading Romney by 52
percent to 41 percent among a sample of 1,022 likely women
voters. He also led among likely men voters, by 47 percent to 44
Last week, Obama led Romney among likely female voters by 48
percent to 44 percent, and trailed among likely male voters by
50 percent to 44 percent, the Reuters/Ipsos data showed.
JOBS, JOBS, JOBS?
Obama's team has courted women with ads stressing his
support for equal-pay legislation, abortion rights and
contraceptive insurance coverage. The Democratic National
Convention featured high-profile women emphasizing those issues.
They slammed Romney for shifting positions on abortion and
contraceptive rights since his 2002 election as governor of
Democratic-leaning Massachusetts and for failing to support
Obama-backed legislation easing the way for women to sue over
workplace pay discrimination.
But some analysts said that approach might help explain
Obama's flagging support, in a year when economic problems and
a high jobless rate worry voters.
"The Democrats have been very focused on what we call the
particularistic concerns of women, such as abortion, equal pay
and contraception," said Lara Brown, a political scientist at
"I'm wondering if the women who are migrating toward Romney,
they're just saying to themselves, 'Abortion and birth control
and equal pay are not my issues, what I'm more concerned about
is the overall state and health of the economy.'"
Marion Kirschner, 33, of Delaware, Ohio, placed herself
among those voters.
The Romney supporter called herself "kind of liberal" on
social issues like abortion and gay marriage rights - which
Romney opposes - but said government should focus elsewhere.
"I think the government should worry about the economy,
domestic issues and foreign policy. That is more important to me
than social issues," said the married mother of 17-month-old
twins, who works at an aviation company.
Vicki May, 43, of Colonial Heights, Virginia, said she hoped
Romney would improve the economy, while expressing anger with
"I've been out of work for three years and I haven't been
able to find anything," she said. "They keep saying there are
jobs out there, but I haven't noticed."