President Obama. (Courtesy: Getty Images)
By Gregory Korte, USA TODAY
TAMPA - American women say the economy is the most important issue in deciding their vote, and they think the economy is in bad shape. But they also give President Obama high marks, according to a new Lifetime Networks poll of 1,003 women.
How to resolve that contradiction? Women tend to be more patient.
"Women are pro-incumbent," said Kellyanne Conway, a Republican pollster who co-directed the poll for the woman-oriented cable channel with Democratic pollster Celinda Lake. "Women want the president to succeed."
"They think he's made progress after being handed a very bad situation and understands there is a long way to go," Lake said. "So he gets good marks for being in touch, caring and trying."
The economy ranks as the top issue for women across all demographic groups: 47% rank it as one of their top two concerns, followed by health care (35%), education (23%) and government spending (17%). Social issues ranked even lower.
Asked to give the president a letter grade, women were fairly positive. Half gave him an "A" (17%) or a "B" (33%) for his performance in office; with "C" (29%), "D" (10%) and "F" (19%) filling out the curve.
The Lifetime Networks telephone poll of 1,003 women has a unique methodology. Pollsters surveyed only women, which means there's no basis for gender comparison but the sample size of women is twice as large. And pollsters made no effort to determine likely voters, so its significance on the November election is limited.
But the poll does paint a picture of how women approach politics -- and it's not all about "women's" issues.
"It's not about biology or chemistry," Conway said. "It's about math." An overwhelming number of women said their household's net worth had remained stagnant (54%) or gone down (30%) under the Obama administration.
Lake said one focus group participant told her, "I'm talking about my job. You guys are all talking about my birth control, which I thought was settled in 1960."
Both pollsters say the women's vote could decide the election.
"Independent women are the key wing vote right now, and the margin on women tends to float the most," while men stay relatively constant, Lake said.
"Women are late-in-the-game deciders. They tend to study longer and check in later," Conway said.
"Finally, women see their power as voters. They realize that they hold the fate of the presidential election in their hands."
First lady Michelle Obama is enormously popular with women: 72% like her, and 51% really like her. Her approval rate is even higher with mothers, at 77%.
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton remains "the icon of an exceptionally qualified woman," Lake said.
Just for fun, the Lifetime poll asked women about whether a random list of celebrities would make good politicians. The top pick -- selected by Democrats and Republicans alike -- was actress Meryl Streep, at 31%. She beat out actress Angelina Jolie (21%), singers Beyonce (5%) and Lady Gaga (4%), and model Heidi Klum (2%).
The poll was conducted Aug. 3 to Aug. 11 and has a margin of error of +/-3.1 percentage points.