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Women Online: Facts, Figures, and the 2008 Election

BY Morra Aarons-Mele | Monday, July 16 2007

Warning: this first piece is going to be a little long because I want to set the stage. Later posts won’t be as essay-like.

The candidate most effective at reaching women online will have a serious edge in the primary election. Why? More women vote than men. More women are online than men. Given the importance of reaching women online, all of the presidential campaigns have weak online operations for targeting women. Women make the key difference to primary victories, and although each presidential campaign has staff focused on women, they are doing very little to effectively target women online.

My work, professional and academic, centers on mobilizing women online. In my professional life, I work with campaigns, organizations, and companies to build online campaigns that move women. In my graduate work, I study how to persuade female swing voters online. I’m also the political director of BlogHer and a contributing editor for politics and news. BlogHer is the largest site for women bloggers (Over 11,000 of us!). I’m also a Hillary supporter, but do not have professional ties to the campaign.

From most of the current marketing and media coverage, you’d think all women do online is shop, talk babies, read celebrity gossip, or pose for saucy photos. Yes, women do all that online (so do men), but women are also the fastest growing group of bloggers online. And yet media coverage of political blogging focuses on the overwhelmingly male world of elite political bloggers. Famous female voices online? Radical rabble-rousers like Michelle Malkin. On the left, Jane Hamsher from Firedoglake, or Jessica Valenti from Feministing, who are compelling, but not moderate or mainstream voices.
Women already comprise 46% of bloggers up, from about 19% just 3 years ago. For more helpful info about women bloggers, click here. to see BlogAds’ 2006 survey. We outnumber men online; this spans age, race and ethnicity, community type, income and education level (2007 PEW Internet and American Life Project numbers).

I’m frustrated when clients or campaigns argue that online only reaches well to do, educated white women. That’s not the case, although bloggers tend to be white, suburban, and better educated, 48% of women earning less than $30,000 household income go online (2004-2005 PEW Internet and American Life Project numbers). When we read about Hillary’s appeal to lower or working class women, it’s important to remember these women can be reached online.

Speaking of, Hillary Clinton’s presence means women matter more in this cycle than ever before, and over the next year and a half, candidates and issue campaigns will try to reach women online to earn hearts and votes. I'll be monitoring online political activity targeted towards women, as well as what women online are saying about various candidates. I'm going to cover not only campaign or candidate-focused activity like Women for Hillary, but also political programming on women's websites like Oxygen.com and iVillage.com.

Here are some more facts about women online:

  • After sleeping or spending time with family, the Internet is women’s favorite leisure activity (Yahoo/Starcom report 2005). But women surf around less than men: they like to frequent trusted sites and communities. This is important for campaigns to remember.
  • Even females who don’t self-describe as “political” organize and raise money: A recent survey by BlogAds.com found that of the “mommy” blog readers surveyed, 46% have contributed to a cause or campaign.
  • Women talk differently online: "This is a huge generalization, but men use the blogosphere as a podium, e.g., 'This is what I think.' Women use it as a dialogue," Janet Eden-Harris, Internet firm Umbria's CEO, recently told the Denver Westword News. "The number of words that women use on a blog far exceeds that of men," she said. More later this week…

Anyone who follows politics knows this: For 40 years, more women than men have voted in elections . As (edit: former) Ladies Home Journal editor Myrna Blyth notes,“Up until 1980 women tended to vote like the men in their lives. If anything, they tended to be a bit more conservative.” But over the next 24 years, women shifted overwhelmingly Democrat, until 2004, when the emergence of the “security moms” gave Bush an advantage, stripping points off the Democrats’ lead with women voters.

As we well know, married women favored Bush by a small majority in 2004. The famed gender gap shrunk about 5 percentage points between 2000, when women overwhelmingly chose Gore,and 2004, when we all know what happened.

In 2004, Republicans had a real opportunity to reach female swing voters and they made the most of it Overall, between women and men in 2004, there was a seven point difference in voting habits — 51 percent of women voted for John Kerry, while 44 percent of men favored Kerry. Conversely, men preferred George W. Bush by 55 to 48 percent over women. Sixty-two percent of unmarried women voted for Kerry and 56 percent of young women (age 18-29) also voted Democratic.

The 2006 midterm elections proved Republicans lost that opportunity (In the 2006 elections, Women
voted for the Democratic candidate by a 12 point margin (55% Democrat to 43%
Republican), while the margin among men was only 3 points for the Democrats (50%
Democrat to 47% Republican) with a five point gender gap between men and women. According to LakeSnellPerry , this election represented a particular shift from the 2004 elections, when women voted +3 points for Kerry (51% to 48%) and men voted +11 for Bush (55% to 44%), but you can bet family-friendly and macho Republican candidates like Mitt Romney are going to try very hard to reach back the “security moms” of 2004.

Websites like Womenforromney.org are perfect examples of how the voter-generated efforts can organize and sway adult women. The site, which appears to be independent from the Romney campaign, is homegrown and was developed primarily by Ann Marie Curling, a Mormon mom from Kentucky. She’s a political operative’s dream volunteer: a lifelong Republican activist with a website that’s a powerful megaphone for Romney.

In the primaries of 2008, the prevailing candidate in the Democratic Party’s primary will win because of women’s votes. Up to 59% of [likely] Democratic primary voters in key early states are women, according to the Washington Post (6/11/2007). Hillary Clinton owes her current lead to women: an ABC/Washington Post poll in June showed while men are almost equally likely to support Clinton and Senator Obama, among women, Clinton leads with a two to one margin.

Rudy Giuliani might suffer because female primary voters favor him less than other candidates. This electoral season has traditionally shown McCain in the lead with Republican women, followed by Mitt Romney, and then Giuliani. Breaking with GOP orthodoxy, Romney recently stated he would support abortions for women whose lives were in danger, which I read as a strong appeal to more moderate female Republican voters, because Romney sang a different tune in 2006, when he stated he would support a full abortion ban in South Dakota . Clearly there is a battle on both sides of the aisle for the women’s vote.

As women go, so will the White House, which is why it is important to cover not only what campaigns and organizations are doing online to sway women voters, but also to observe what women say and do in their own networks, blogs, and online communities.

Ok, you get it. Women are online, women make the key difference to primary victories, and campaigns are targeting women. But they’re not doing it effectively online, not yet.

Next post:

Where are women online? An overview of popular women’s sites, blogs and online social networks: looking beyond Mommybloggers and feminists.