September 28, 2012

July Poll: For Maine genders, views similar but not equal

On social and health issues, the economy and more, the gender gap shows in expected -- and some surprising -- ways.

By John Richardson
Staff Writer

PORTLAND - If Maine's female voters have their way, President Obama will easily win re-election, Maine will overwhelmingly approve same-sex marriage, contraception will be covered by insurance like any other health service, and government will focus more on investing in education than cutting taxes.

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“I think women are struggling in the economy more than people think we are,” said Joyce Poirier, left, a Democrat and a nurse midwife in Portland.

John Patriquin/Staff Photographer

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Noelle Surprise, a Portland college student, said she worries about women losing access to abortion and family planning services. “My biggest fear is losing rights as women if (Mitt) Romney wins,” she said.

John Patriquin/Staff Photographer

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Maine men don't necessarily disagree with women on all of the issues. They just tend to be a bit more conservative. And, in some cases, a lot more conservative.

That is the message in a new statewide poll commissioned by the Portland Press Herald and conducted by Portland-based Critical Insights. The poll explored Maine's gender gap on political issues and statewide candidates, and included an additional sampling of women to provide greater accuracy on the views of female voters.

The gender gap is more than a political curiosity. Women are a key voting bloc in Maine and nationally, generally outnumbering men at the polls. Maine does not track voter registration or voter turnouts by gender. However, 51.7 percent of voting-age Mainers are women, and the people who run campaigns know it.

Throughout the poll results, Maine's gender gap shows up in expected and unexpected ways. It is especially wide on issues of women's health and abortion rights, and issues tied to taxes and the economy.

In some cases, the gap doesn't show up where it might be expected.

Women in Maine don't appear to be any more determined than men to elect female candidates to national office this fall, for example.

Neither Democratic U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, in the 1st Congressional District, nor Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Cynthia Dill has a significantly higher percentage of female supporters than male supporters, the poll shows.

Which candidates do appear more popular with women than men? Obama, Angus King and Democratic U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud.

King is an independent Senate candidate, running against Dill and Republican Charlie Summers. Michaud is running for re-election in Maine's 2nd District against Republican Kevin Raye.

Some women said it's a mistake to expect them to back female candidates more often.

"I really think that we don't have enough representation for women, and so I do try to look for that. But I certainly wouldn't vote for a woman just because she is woman," said Angelina Simmons, an independent voter from Harpswell who backs Pingree in the House race and is leaning toward King in the Senate race.

The gender gap in American politics goes back several decades, and gets larger or smaller depending on the issues of the day, said Emily Shaw, an assistant professor of political science at Thomas College in Waterville who has studied the phenomenon.

"When there is war, women move in a liberal direction in response to national security" issues, she said. More recently, with the economy being the top issue, "men have appeared to become more conservative."

As expected, the poll shows a wide gap between the genders on so-called women's issues, which voters tend to identify as abortion rights, contraception and family planning access, and equity in the workplace, among other things.

Republicans' efforts to cut federal family planning funding and Democrats' efforts to expand health insurance coverage for contraception make women's health a hot topic in the presidential election. And that is clearly helping Obama's re-election bid among Maine women, according to the poll.

Women said they favor Obama over Republican Mitt Romney, 54 percent to 29 percent. Among men, it's a statistical dead heat, with 44 percent supporting Obama and 42 percent supporting Romney.

One reason is that 64 percent of the women who were polled said they trust Obama more to handle women's issues. Fifty-three percent of men said they trust Obama with women's issues, too.

(Continued on page 2)

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“I really think that we don’t have enough representation for women, and so I do try to look for that. But I certainly wouldn’t vote for a woman just because she is a woman,” said Angelina Simmons, a 36-year-old independent voter from Harpswell.

John Patriquin/Staff Photographer


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