White Women: The Not-So-Swing Group for Barack Obama and John McCain

White women are important, but they aren't shifting as much as the media make out.


Women are important this election cycle. They are donating more money and voted in high numbers during the primaries, but they aren't changing their opinions about candidates willy-nilly as some would have you believe.

The buzz is that John McCain had captured the support of white women because of Sarah Palin. But here's the rub: white women haven't behaved any differently from the general population. They haven't been swinging as wildly as my colleague Bonnie and many others have suggested.

Women in general tend to vote Democratic, but white women traditionally vote Republican. The media and political consultants made much of Palin entering the race and said that women across the board, but especially white women, were swinging to McCain because she was on the ticket. Despite the loud and frequent claims that Palin was the silver bullet, Gallup found that she did not help McCain among white women. White women are following the same patterns as all voters:

Gallup Daily tracking has shown some variation in support levels for the two candidates—McCain and Barack Obama—across the last month and a half, but the shifts in candidate preferences of white women do not appear to have been much different from those of all voters.

So why all of the focus on white women? With this historic election where Hillary Clinton came close to winning the nomination and Palin is on the Republican ticket, women are at the center of the debate. And while the focus is warranted, some of it is misguided. Women have shifted slightly from week to week. But the Gallup tracking poll shows white women followed the same patterns as all registered voters. And the fluctuations, while they could be significant in a close election, aren't that severe.

  Obama % among white women McCain % among white women
Sept. 15-21 45 47
Sept. 8-14 40 51
Sept. 1-7 42 49
Aug. 25-31 43 47
Aug. 18-24 39 48
  Obama overall % McCain overall %
Sept. 15-21 49 44
Sept. 8-14 45 47
Sept. 1-7 47 45
Aug. 25-31 48 42
 Aug. 18-24 45 45

—From Gallup.com

So let's be honest about all of this. Palin helped McCain shore up support among white women, but they were likely going to vote for him anyway based on past voting patterns and exit polls, as Robert writes. White Democratic women haven't moved, as I wrote earlier this week. And white women in general aren't the swing group many in the media have made them out to be.