As both political parties step up efforts to court women voters, a new survey reveals many women don’t vote because they lack the time, the information and the belief elections are relevant to their lives.
The conclusions, produced from a nonpartisan survey of first-time women voters in Missouri and four other states last year, is sure to be dissected as Republicans and Democrats lay plans for 1998 congressional contests and beyond.
“We wanted to find out what works, what motivates someone to vote, what message resonates the most with women,” said Irene Natividad, chairwoman of the Women’s Vote Project, a grass-roots, voter-outreach effort that coordinated the survey.
What they found was that many women have trouble with even the most basic steps in political participation, even as they hold the power to control the outcome of an election, as they did for President Clinton last year.
More than two-thirds of the women surveyed said a nonpartisan voter guide mailed before election day would encourage more of them to vote. More than half said voting by mail would solve many of their problems with the political process. Just under half said they wanted more information about where and when to vote.
Women of color are more likely than white women to be deterred by long poll lines, lack of child care and knowing where to vote, the poll showed.
The first-time women voters who participated in the survey came from Missouri, Colorado, Georgia, Massachusetts and North Carolina - five states where women’s participation was lower than the national average in recent presidential elections.
Despite the lower participation rates, President Clinton benefited from strong support from women in each of these states.
Those factors plus their representative demographic mix made these states interesting survey targets for women political activists from both parties.
Maureen McGrath, a St. Louis Republican activist, said she hopes to survey will help increase women’s turnout in Missouri.
The survey also tried to determine what motivated women to vote.
Message was important, the analysts found. President Clinton and the Democrats emphasized issues that concerned children, education and family security. They seemed to work.
“The personal is still the political for a lot of women, ” Natividad said. “It’s not the national budget, it is the family budget.”
Linda DiVall, a Republican pollster who helped conduct the survey, echoed that message and said the GOP should take note. She said the Republican Party needs to speak to women voters about family concerns and the economy, “as opposed to some macroeconomic number that may not be particularly meaningful to them.”
The survey showed new women voters, for the most part, were somewhat younger and less-educated than women voters overall. They also were less certain that the country was on the right track.
Celinda Lake, a Democratic pollster who helped conduct the survey, offered a caution about the first-time women voters. “These women could easily not show up in 1998 as vote in 1998,” she said, “so our work is far from done.”