American women are considerably more concerned about their economic security than American men are — a finding that could have serious implications for the fall elections, according to a poll released Wednesday by the National Women’s Law Center, a nonprofit legal advocacy group.
In an advance copy of the poll, provided exclusively to Politico, 59 percent of women said they were “worried and concerned about achieving [their] economic and financial goals over the next five years,” compared with just 33 percent who called themselves “hopeful and confident.”
In contrast, American men were more evenly divided, with 44 percent calling themselves confident about the future and 46 percent saying they were worried.
“We know from the state of the economy that people are feeling pressed,” Nancy Duff Campbell, co-president of the National Women’s Law Center, said. “Women are feeling it even more strongly than men.”
In the aftermath of a Democratic primary contest in which gender issues came to the forefront, women and men remain divided on some of the key issues up for debate this fall, the survey shows.
The poll of 1,001 women and 307 men, conducted by Peter D. Hart Research Associates July 17-24, found that women are not just more anxious about making economic ends meet — they also are worried that the odds are stacked against them because of their gender, and they are looking to the government for help. The overall margin of error was plus or minus 2.8 percentage points.
Fifty-five percent of female respondents said government should take a more active role, in general, to help people meet their needs. Only 41 percent of men said the same.
Seventy-five percent of female respondents said the government ought to provide more assistance to families planning for retirement. Men lagged slightly behind, with 66 percent agreeing.
Seventy-five percent of women also told the pollster that the government should increase funding for childcare and early education programs. Fifty-nine percent of men supported action on this issue — a high number, but still short of the solid consensus among women.
A full 77 percent of women said it was very or extremely important that the new president and Congress take on the issue of pay equity after they are sworn into office in January.
Asked to volunteer which issues were most important to them, women consistently ranked economic issues as the most pressing.
“Pretty consistently, it’s the items that are most related to economic security that come out at the top,” said pollster Geoff Garin, who supervised the survey. “Women say that these are extremely high priorities, and are much more likely to do so than men.”
If this trend holds, Garin suggested it could create a wider-than-usual gender gap in the November elections. In 2000, exit polls showed that former Vice President Al Gore, the Democratic nominee, beat then-Texas Gov. George W. Bush among women 54 percent to 43 percent.
In 2004, the gender gap narrowed, with President Bush losing women by only three percentage points.
Along with the poll, the National Women’s Law Center will release a document outlining a set of issues it hopes Congress and the White House will address in 2009.
This proposed agenda, titled “A Platform for Progress: Building a Better Future for Women and their Families,” emphasizes measures to promote workplace equality and economic security for women, including government support for families seeking childcare, expanded tax credits for families with young children, and increased government attention to women’s health issues.
The document also urges passage of the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, a bill that would strengthen legal protections against gender-based pay disparities. Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, has touted his support for this measure on the campaign trail, as did New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, his former rival.
Abortion may be the subject on which men and women’s opinions converge most closely: 62 percent of women and 64 percent of men said that the Supreme Court should not overturn Roe v. Wade, the 1973 decision guaranteeing the right to an abortion. Forty-nine percent of both women and men felt strongly that the decision should be upheld.
Whatever they have been doing so far, Garin argued, the presidential candidates will have to focus seriously on issues of importance to women during the final months of the campaign.
“This is a policy poll, not an election poll,” said Garin, who served as Clinton’s chief strategist in the final months of her campaign. “But this is an election year where the candidates have, for various reasons, the burden to show that they get it with women, that they understand what women are experiencing.”