Suburban Women Priorities for the Presidential Debates Posted on October 1, 2012 | Focus Group

Resurgent Republic sponsored two focus groups in Richmond, Virginia among college-educated suburban women who voted for Barack Obama in 2008 and are not strongly affiliated with either candidate today. Conducted by American Viewpoint, the focus groups were split by age (ages 50-64 and ages 30-49) with household incomes ranging from $65k to $120k and higher. These groups included a mix of single and married women.

In 2008 President Obama carried women voters by 56 to 43 percent (McCain won 53 percent of the white women vote). The pendulum swung back during the 2010 midterm elections as congressional Republicans received a slight plurality, 49 to 48 percent (including a strong majority among white women, 58 to 39 percent). In Resurgent Republic's August national survey, President Obama won 50 percent of the women vote and 4 in 10 white women. Recent public polling in battleground states has shown President Obama widening his lead among women, which is likely reflected in the considerable goodwill the president holds among the voters in our groups. Still the Romney campaign's recent messaging ("Too Many Americans" TV ad) and the upcoming presidential debates offer Governor Romney an opportunity to narrow the gap. The following are key highlights from our focus groups:

  1. Swing college-educated voters in both groups describe the economy in mostly negative terms. The pessimistic outlook included words such as "bumpy," "depressed," "struggling," "shaky," "troubled," "debt," and "needs work – literally and figuratively." Yet there was an optimistic hue mixed in since a handful of the voters believe the economy is beginning to get better. One realtor respondent said she has “been as busy in the last six months as I have been in the last four years." Voters are looking for continued economic improvement – defined as better paying jobs and increasing home values – before definitively concluding things have turned around.

  2. Governor Romney's recent TV ad, "Too Many Americans," is well received by swing college-educated women and has the potential to cut through the negative clutter. Governor Romney's challenge in Wednesday's debate is to convince these voters he is an acceptable alternative, and there’s evidence that suburban women could be more likely to do so given the 60-second TV ad where the Republican candidate speaks directly to camera. After viewing this commercial, voters in both groups volunteered responses counter to their initial impression and were more likely to view Governor Romney in a positive light. Quotes offered were:

    • "[He's] more relatable."

    • "I actually believed what he said and want to know how he's going to do it."

    • "He seemed more real, more laid back, more compassionate."

    • "[He] seemed caring."

    • "He cares about the poor and middle class families."

    • "He has a plan."

  3. In the upcoming presidential debates, swing college-educated women are looking to hear more specifics about Governor Romney's economic plan. When asked what they'd like to hear from Governor Romney in the closing weeks of the campaign, one woman responded, "I want to hear specifics about how these jobs would be created." Due to continued frustration over the economy, these voters desire to hear in detail how things can be turned around. Suburban women plan to tune-in to the presidential debates in part because they're seeking an unfiltered perspective of Governor Romney. This gives the Republican candidate an attentive audience to communicate specifics of how his plan will create 12 million new jobs.

  4. President Obama still holds considerable goodwill among swing college-educated women. He is perceived as an admirable father and good family man, and most of these voters either give him credit for trying to improve the economy or approve of his job performance. Interestingly, approval of the auto bailouts came up in both groups, an indicator that this issue may be resonating outside the Midwest. The group ages 30-49 was a bit more negative in describing the president’s job performance, concluding that he has been "mediocre," "disappointing," or “he could have done things differently on the economy." Yet in looking at these sentiments in their entirety, it’s clear the women voters in our groups trust President Obama, and as a result, are more likely to give him the benefit of doubt.

  5. Voters in both groups express concern over increasing deficits and debt and want President Obama to address this issue during the presidential debates. The national debt is now greater than $16 trillion, which equates to more than $50k debt per person. These voters do not believe the trajectory of the past four years is sustainable and were more likely to ask President Obama how he will address the problem than Governor Romney, signaling President Obama's ownership of this issue. As we have seen in previous focus groups, voters in general have a difficult time describing how the federal debt impacts them personally. After a discussion, they eventually conclude that if left unchecked the skyrocketing debt will result in higher taxes and fewer government services.

  6. The cost of health care remains a pressing concern more than two years after the health care law was passed. Nearly all of these women voters describe themselves as the primary decision maker for their own health care or for their families. The cost of health care, detailed as increasing premiums and prescription drug coverage, came up several times during the discussion. And while President Obama's law was billed as making health care more affordable, these voters have largely forgotten the details of the law and are not optimistic that costs will decrease in the near future.

  7. Swing college-educated women are following the debate over women's health issues. When asked what they believe is at stake in this election, these voters focused on women's health issues with nearly the same frequency as the economy, better paying jobs, and reducing the federal debt. The economy remains the most important issue in this election based upon our quantitative research, yet these responses suggest messaging centered on women’s health issues, which is airing heavily in Virginia media markets, may be drawing the attention of some suburban women voters away from the economy.


    It should be noted that many of the responses were more reflective of how these voters view the Republican brand rather than Governor Romney, although this challenge should not be overlooked. In addition, these voters may be more aware of these issues given recent state legislative debates in Richmond.



All voters in these two focus groups supported President Obama in 2008 and are not strongly affiliated with either candidate today.

Richmond, Virginia
September 27, 2012
Ages 50-64 / Ages 30-49
Conducted by American Viewpoint

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