Three myths about women voters that wouldn’t go away in 2012
Protesters stand together during a Planned Parenthood rally at the Republican National Convention in Tampa. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
In the bitterly fought battle for women voters this election season, both candidates dwelled on issues like equal pay, abortion, access to contraception and women's unemployment. And the news media eagerly speculated on the candidates' chance of success with female voters, who made up 53 percent of the electorate in 2008.
In the process, a few major myths emerged about the female voter, from their views on abortion to whether their dating life influences them in the voting booth. Here are three of the biggest ones:
Myth No. 1: Women are more in favor of abortion rights than men are
For the past year, Democrats argued Republicans are waging a "war on women" for wanting to make all abortions illegal, while Republicans countered that Democrats don't want any restrictions on abortion. Each side is attempting to paint the other as extreme, hoping to pick up on-the-fence women voters in the process.
But, despite how they're sometimes portrayed in the news media and by political candidates, female voters are about as divided on abortion as men are.
"One of the central myths in American politics is that women are more pro-choice than men," Karen Kaufman, an associate professor at the University of Maryland who has researched the gender gap, told Yahoo News.
In 2011, 59 percent of men and 56 percent of women said in a Gallup poll that abortion should be legal in no circumstances or only in a few.
Men and women are much more divided on the issue of war (women oppose military interventions) and the role of government (women are more wary of federal spending cuts) than on abortion.
That fact may come as a surprise in this election in particular, as abortion and reproductive issues took on a huge role. Mitt Romney criticized President Barack Obama for requiring employers' insurance plans to provide free contraception, calling the health care reform's mandate an infringement on employers' freedom of religion. Meanwhile, to paint Romney as extreme and out of touch, Obama seized on the abortion-related comments of a handful of Republicans like Missouri Senate candidate Todd Akin, who said women who are raped should not be allowed to access legal abortions because he believed, falsely, that they could not physically become pregnant.
Rutgers political scientist Susan Carroll told Yahoo News she has not seen a presidential election contest as focused on abortion and reproductive rights since 1972, the year before Roe v. Wade was decided.
"Candidates have wanted to run away from abortion in previous elections," Carroll sad. "When you talk about it, you alienate someone."
Despite the fact that women are about equally split on abortion, it still makes sense that the Obama campaign has relentlessly highlighted comments from Akin, Indiana Senate candidate Richard Mourdock, and a few other Republicans explaining why they think abortions should be illegal in all circumstances. The majority of both men and women think abortions should be legal in cases of rape or the health of the mother, so the ads paint the candidates—and by extension, Romney—as outside of the mainstream.