What to Make of the Poll That Showed Independent Women Swinging Republican
On Monday, a New York Times/Siena College poll indicated that 49 percent of likely voters would back their district’s Republican congressional candidate—a supposed swing toward red in a close race for control over the House. But perhaps the most headline-generating result was that the poll also found that women who identified as independent voters now backed Republicans by 18 points—when in September they favored Democrats by 14 points.
The poll results threw Democrats into a tizzy, after a summer of stories that promised that anger over Roe v. Wade being overturned would benefit the party this fall. As we get to November, is that momentum really fading?
Maybe! But also—maybe not. There are plenty of reasons to not read too much into this slight outlier of a poll. For one thing, the New York Times asked likely voters on how they would vote on a generic ballot, not incorporating individual candidates of the numerous local races, including the House, Senate, governorships and more. That’s important because most Republicans currently running local races across the country are not considered generic Republicans, according to Sarah Longwell, a longtime Republican strategist and host of the podcast The Focus Group. Instead, there are countless extreme Trumpers, including multiple election deniers and those who carry hardline stances on abortion. That includes the likes of Republican candidate Hershel Walker running for a Senate seat in Georgia, J.D. Vance in Ohio and Kari Lake for governor in Arizona.
In the swing voting focus groups Longwell conducts across the country, she hasn’t seen much evidence to suggest that women are swinging back towards Republicans. Instead, they’ve told Longwell, they want to avoid the extreme candidates, especially with stringent pro-life stances.
To further understand this voting bloc—independent women voters who might be particularly mad over Dobbs—and what they’re thinking now, I spoke to Debbie Walsh, director of the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University. The first thing she told me is that she questions the swing reported in the New York Times poll. Then we dug into everything else—our conversation has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.
Shirin Ali: How do you think women voters view big ticket issues like abortion, the economy and inflation this November?
Debbie Walsh: What we’ve known and what we’ve seen since 1980, is that women vote differently than men. And whether they’re registered as Democrats or not, they’re more likely to support Democratic candidates than men are, less likely to support Republican candidates than men are. And then there’s variation among women, right? Women are not monolithic. So white women have leaned more Republican, while Black women are the strongest Democratic voters out there. And then there’s variation among white women, college educated white women versus non-college educated white women. College educated white women are more likely to support Democratic candidates than non-college educated white women. So again, women are not this monolithic bloc that vote en masse in any one way, but there are differences in the way they vote and that vote in close elections, sometimes can make a difference in the outcome of the election.
I think for women, just like for men, if you ask, ‘what’s the most important issue?,’ the economy always rises to the top. But I think in some ways, we’ve found that women think about the economy in different ways and they’re thinking about it more as kitchen table economics. How am I making ends meet in my family? How am I stretching that dollar? There’s also more economic insecurity that women face, women make less money than men, they have less money saved for retirement. They have felt historically more employment insecure, and women also live longer than men. And so what the government provides in their lives in terms of that social safety net, whether they’re using it now or they think they will need it in the future, things like social security, Medicare are things they think about. Whether it’s unemployment insurance because of employment insecurity or whether it’s family leave, paid family leave or not, depending on where you live, if you happen to live in one of the three states that actually have some form of paid family leave. But all of those issues really rise to the top.