WASHINGTON – John Kerry (search) has gained back some key women voters from President Bush (search) this month, according to most recent surveys, leading some poll watchers to question just how real the so-called "Security Mom" demographic is in this election.
"I’m a skeptic," said Karlyn Bowman, a public opinion researcher for the American Enterprise Institute (search). "It is true that during the Republican convention Bush gained support among women, but he’s since lost it."
Security Moms have seemingly replaced "Soccer Moms" this year as the key voting group to watch: married mothers who place security at the top of their list of voting priorities, and who pollsters, pundits and media alike have said are responsible for Bush's closing the age-old gender gap in recent weeks.
These women are also considered a "swing group" because their votes can be swayed by current events — like the Russian school massacre in early September and the war in Iraq.
In 2000, Democrat Al Gore won married women by a point over Bush and beat Bush among women overall by 11 percentage points.
A FOX News/Opinion Dynamics poll taken Oct. 3-4 among all likely women voters shows Bush ahead of Kerry by one point. But other polls have Kerry leading Bush by several points among women. In an Oct. 1-3 Gallup poll, Bush trails Kerry 45 to 51 percent among all women. That's a switch from late September, when Bush led Kerry among women 49 to 47 percent.
Dave Winston, a Republican pollster, said with the male vote breaking for Bush, that lead is not enough for Kerry to win.
"If, on Election Day, Bush is trailing by 5 or 6 points among women, George Bush will win this election," he said.
Pollsters say Security Moms may not be as definable a group as the Bush team would like because married moms are traditionally more likely to vote for the Republican candidate anyway. Polls taken that break down the women's vote by marital status show that not much has changed there.
"Married women are not as Republican as men, but they are a solid group," said Bowman. "It’s nothing new."
Women, however, also tend to be "late deciders," and according to the most recent Pew Poll taken Oct. 1-3 among registered voters, 22 percent of women were still undecided compared to 18 percent of men.
"I do think there is something of a real group there," said AEI researcher John Fortier, referring to the Security Moms. He, however, suggests the title is just another name for "white married women," who "tend to be late deciders, or at least persuadable by both parties."
Fortier said that while most married women tend to vote Republican and single women go for Democrats, a subgroup of "in the middle" married women could be influenced by current events, and this year, those events happen to be security and the War on Terror.
"We think these women are in a roughly persuadable category in that they are women somewhat more interested in the softer, compassionate issues," he said. "But we are in a post-9/11 world and these women care more about safety and security than we thought they would."
"The women vote has been kind of volatile," said Cary Funk of the Pew Research Center (search), and among them security, Iraq and the economy are top issues. But, Funk said, she feels that the Security Mom factor "has been exaggerated a bit."
"Could it shift? Yeah it could shift," she said. "I think in that sense we don’t know everything about what can happen down the road."
Republicans say this persuadable group of women has been leaning more toward Bush — mostly because the president typically leads among all voters who put security as their top concern and more women are doing so. If the president keeps a good chunk of them, Republican pollsters say he will have locked in his re-election.
Winston said that the Russian school horror, in which hundreds of children were taken hostage by Chechen terrorists on the first day of school and later killed during the siege, became a defining moment for a group of women who had already been made keenly aware of security issues since the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks.
"They want someone who is going to be aggressive against the terrorists to make sure it never happens here," said Winston. "What they are looking for is leadership, not partisan rhetoric or tit-for-tat exchanges and scoring points."
Winston said Bush has worked hard to appeal to moms by not only laying out a plan to make the homeland safer, but by pressing hard on staple issues like his No Child Left Behind (search) education program.
He said Kerry has failed to convey to women that he has a better plan to make their families safer. "Kerry is like the boy who cried wolf because he’s bounced around so much," said Winston. "These women want clear, decisive action."
But Tom Smith, an analyst for the National Public Opinion Research Center (search) at the University of Chicago, suggested that the war in Iraq and current conditions on the ground there may not appeal to these women’s sense of security.
"[Women] want the government to do what it takes to make the country safer, but when you ask about invading this country or bombing that country, they are less supportive," he said. "That is something Bush has to worry about. Security Moms aren’t for really aggressive military action with the possibility for lots of American casualties."
Smith said Democrats are doing a good job at wooing this group by repeating the word "misled" when describing the Bush administration's arguments for the invasion of Iraq. "They can say ‘lied’ without using the term," said Smith.