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How Obama's position on felons hurts women

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Oct. 19, 2012: President Barack Obama speaks about choice facing women in the election during a campaign event at George Mason University in Fairfax, Va. (AP)

Women are the focus of the presidential campaign. To get the women’s vote, Governor Mitt Romney apparently “was determined to avoid anything remotely bellicose” during the last couple debates. 

Meanwhile, a recent USA Today/Gallup poll show that President Obama’s “free contraception” insurance mandate is helping them “enormously” with female voters. The Obama campaign doubled down on this theme yesterday and released an ad aimed at women voters which emphasizes that Obama cares "specifically whether you get birth control."

We can argue that there is no “free contraception.” If you raise the costs of insurance companies, average premiums will have to rise. The lack of job creation during the Obama administration is also an important issue. 

It is misleading to talk about women as a whole: single women vote overwhelmingly Democratic, but married women tend to support Republicans. Of course, there is the flip side that even if women support Obama, men support Romney. 

Yet, the focus on women is understandable as women’s support shows more variability in the polls. There have been wide swings back-and-forth in Obama’s advantage among women over the last few weeks (see here, here, and here). But there has been little mention of Obama’s other issues that should alienate women voters. 

One in particular is Obama’s strong support for felons voting. Why is it the interest of women that rapists (even people who have committed multiple rapes) should have a say in deciding who will win elections? Take Heather Higgenbottom, then deputy director of the Domestic Policy Council, 2010 discussion on Obama’s views:

The president's position, and many other legislators' position, is that for felons once you have served your sentence and you have done your time and you have completed that you should have your voting rights restored. . . .

But the president would never apply this reasoning to someone who wants to own a gun after they had served time for a felon, even for a non-violent crime and the reason is obvious. He would never even let people who have certain types of people convicted of misdemeanors own a gun. And their reasoning would be clear: we learn something about a person who commits crime. 

Don’t we also learn something about men who commits multiple rapes? What is their view towards women? Do we really want this type of person determining public policy programs for women? Murders can get out of prison in 7 or 8 years. If someone has killed multiple people, do they have the type of compassion towards others that make us want to trust them with determining who are politicians will be? 

Even if felons and women share support for transfer payments to the poor, women’s views on women’s safety issues, education, and women’s health are differ dramatically. Democrat’s desire to let felons vote is understandable. 

Academic work by Jeff Manza and Marcus Britton of Northwestern University and Christopher Uggen of the University of Minnesota estimated that Bill Clinton pulled 86 percent of the felon vote in 1992 and a whopping 93 percent in 1996. Obviously, these are average numbers. More heavily Democratic areas such as Minneapolis-St. Paul would very likely have percentages of felons voting for Democrats that are above these rates. If heavily Democratic Minneapolis-St. Paul were just 3 percentage points above the average, than felon voting in just this one county gave Franken his win. 

In my own work, I examined a Public Opinion Strategies survey that interviewed 602 adults in Washington State in May 2005. Of the respondents, 102 were felons who had their voting rights restored, while 500 were non-felons. Even after accounting for other differences that predict how people vote — race, gender, education level, religious habits, employment, age, and county of residence — felons were 36 percent more likely than non-felons, with the same characteristics, to have voted for John Kerry over George W. Bush and 37 percent more likely to be registered Democrats. African-American and Asian felons in Washington reported that they voted exclusively for Kerry. 

Showing that you care about people is hard sometimes. But in their desire to give voting rights to violent felons who have committed multiple crimes, President Obama is showing that he cares more about Democrats winning than doing what is best for women.

John R. Lott, Jr. is a columnist for FoxNews.com. He is an economist and was formerly chief economist at the United States Sentencing Commission. Lott is also a leading expert on guns and op-eds on that issue are done in conjunction with the Crime Prevention Research Center. He is the author of eight books including "More Guns, Less Crime." His latest book is "Dumbing Down the Courts: How Politics Keeps the Smartest Judges Off the Bench" Bascom Hill Publishing Group (September 17, 2013). Follow him on Twitter@johnrlottjr.