Although surveys show the presidential race could be a squeaker, Barack Obama is winning women 51 to 39 percent, according to a poll conducted for EMILY's List. The group, which supports Democratic, pro-choice women candidates and is behind Obama in '08, found that Obama leads among women voters of all age groups, but his advantage is narrowest among baby boomers.
Female voters have trended Democratic in their choice for the White House in recent elections, although John Kerry won them by a mere 3 percentage points in 2004. That's down from Al Gore's 11-point margin in 2000 and Bill Clinton's whopping 16-point margin in 1996.
The 1980s were another story, particularly during Ronald Reagan's re-election bid in 1984, when he attracted female voters by a 12-point margin.
Today's women not only favor Obama, but his supporters were more likely than McCain's to indicate they've made up their minds in the contest, according to the poll, which is full of revealing data on women's views, values, and generational trends.
It looked at four age groups of registered voters:
Generation Y: These 18-to-27-year-old women—sometimes dubbed the "Millennials"—are successors to the legendary Generation X. They prefer Obama over John McCain more than any other age group. Sixty-two percent want Obama in the White House, compared with 32 percent for McCain. Most of these youngest voters picked President Clinton as their top political hero, while 1 in 8 named Obama.
These women are Facebook junkies. They're green. And they're not immune from economic anxiety. More than older women, they're worried about finding a good-paying job. When asked if this was a good time to be just starting off in this country, this group, born between 1981 and 1990, were nearly evenly divided.
They also stand out from the other age groups for their more favorable view of the growing acceptance of gays, lesbians, and same-sex unions: 53 percent favorable, 28 percent unfavorable, and 18 percent neutral. Likewise they're more apt to be positive about America's increasing racial diversity: 46 percent were favorable, 40 percent neutral, and 14 percent unfavorable.
Generation X: Many of these 28-to-43-year-old women are mothers of young children. The support for Obama in this age bracket sinks dramatically, leaving him with a single-digit advantage. Forty-nine percent are for Obama and 41 percent for McCain.
Born between 1965 and 1980, these women most often herald Reagan as their political hero. Three quarters of the overall group are married and nearly as many (73 percent) have kids under age of 18.
Gen X'ers are more apt to prefer a presidential candidate who touts safety and security (40 percent) over hope and optimism (33 percent). The group divides on the increasing acceptance of homosexuals and same-sex unions (41 percent unfavorable, 40 percent favorable, and 19 percent neutral).
Baby Boomers: These 44-to-62-year-old women are diverse. Younger boomers are working and raising families while older ones are in retirement or approaching it.
They give Obama the slimmest margin over McCain: 49 to 43 percent. The age group split evenly four years ago for President George W. Bush and Democratic nominee John Kerry, 49 percent a piece.
Born between 1946 and 1964, these women have a positive take on America becoming more racially diverse, but not as much as younger women. They have a marginally negative view of the growing acceptance of homosexuals and same-sex unions, with 41 percent unfavorable and 34 percent favorable.
They're also more apt than any other age cohort to say sexism remains a problem for women: 79 percent agree.
Their top political hero: President John F. Kennedy.
Seniors: These 63-and-older women favor Obama 49 percent to 38 percent. They're driven by a range of social and economic trends. Not surprisingly, they're more focused on Social Security and Medicare as voting issues. Those concerns nearly rival other pocketbook issues (the cost of healthcare, gas, and food) as top voting concerns.
One in five of those born in 1945 or earlier sees the increasing access to the Internet in U.S. homes as a negative. Roughly the same proportion views increasing racial diversity as a negative. Socially, they are more conservative. Forty-nine percent call the acceptance of homosexuals and same-sex marriage unfavorable. Only 26 percent call it favorable.
They too look to JFK as a political hero.
Setting aside the age of respondents, McCain leads narrowly among white women (46 percent to Obama's 44 percent) and significantly among evangelicals (58 percent to 33 percent).
Obama had the biggest margins among African-American women (91 percent to McCain's 3 percent) and among female college graduates with postgraduate study (64 percent to 29 percent).
On the issues, "pocketbook" concerns trump all others. Forty-three percent of women name the cost of living, healthcare, gas, and food as top concerns. Thirty-two percent identified foreign policy and national security issues and 28 percent cited energy policies.
The poll tapped 1,406 women during the first week in August. The margin of error was plus or minus 2.7 percentage points, though larger for specific subgroups.