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Women see importance of 2022 election, but poll suggests they put priorities elsewhere

Mother and children in New York

“Women have a bandwidth issue," one of the survey's backers said, pointing out that health care, caregiving needs and economic concerns largely take precedence over political engagement.

Ed Jones/AFP via Getty Images

Originally published by The 19th.

More women are increasingly disengaging with politics even as they see the stakes rising, according to a new poll from the Women & Politics Institute at American University and the Barbara Lee Family Foundation.

Forty-one percent of women say they’re more tuned out from politics — a 12-point increase compared to polling conducted last year. The figure was higher for women of color (49 percent) and women under 40 (55 percent).

That’s despite 3 in 5 women saying the upcoming midterm elections in November will be more important than most.

“Women have a bandwidth issue. And they may be deeply concerned about the election, but they’re also just trying to stay on track at their jobs and make sure that their kids do their homework and all of those other responsibilities that even in the most progressive families, it usually turns out to be the woman that worries about those details,” said Amanda Hunter, executive director of the Barbara Lee Family Foundation. “And that was all amplified during COVID.”

The survey shows more women are worried about their finances and the economy as a whole. And nearly half of women feel more burned out and lonely since the pandemic began.

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Benenson Strategy Group conducted the survey, which included 801 online interviews between February 10-15 among women who were likely to vote in 2022. Forty-three percent of the respondents identified as Democrats; 33 percent identified as Republicans and 24 percent identified as independents. The margin of error is 3.5 percent.

Lindsay Vermeyen, senior vice president at Benenson, said the level of political disengagement among parents of young children is significant: 56 percent of parents with children under 5 years old.

“It’s probably not new news that parents are burned out,” she said. “But this just really reinforces that parents, especially of kids who haven’t been able to get vaccinated, are really feeling left behind.”

The findings around the economy also stood out to Vermeyen: Half of the women interviewed said their financial situation had worsened since the start of the pandemic, an 11-point increase compared to last year.

“We are seeing that women are feeling less and less like they can continue to do it all,” she said.

The survey data previews American women’s concerns ahead of the 2022 midterm elections. When asked about what they considered the most important issues in deciding who to vote for, 36 percent listed the economy, a similar figure to polling data released last year. But inflation and health care tied for third at 26 percent. (The pandemic was second at 27 percent.)

The survey also shows women continue to widely support improvements to the country’s health care systems. More than 80 percent of women continue to believe the pandemic has exposed more flaws in America’s health care system and that it needs to be improved. That includes support for programs like Medicaid, Medicare and the Affordable Care Act and policies like paid sick leave and paid family leave. That support has increased among Republican women, from 62 percent last year to 73 percent this year.

“Women have always been — at least for the past several decades — the source of speculation as voters, because women are known to be a powerful force at the ballot box,” said Amanda Hunter, executive director of the Barbara Lee Family Foundation. “And of course, women are not monolithic in the way that they vote. But this data sheds some light on what issues are going to be important to women.”

The survey also shows 40 percent of women are starting to think life will never go back to “normal” — a 14 point increase from 2021. Hunter called the data point “striking.”

“Women are really sounding the alarm about a lot of cracks in our systems that throughout the pandemic have come to the forefront,” she said. “After two years, this data really reveals the burdens that so many women have been shouldering in so many different categories.”

The survey also shows women are galvanized by seeing more women serving in public office. While 53 percent of women believe that elected officials, regardless of gender, have let people down and not delivered results, 54 percent also said the record number of women in Congress has had a “positive impact on women’s lives across the country.” Three in 4 Democrats and more than half of Independents want to see more women in office. (More than half Republican women respondents thought there was just the right amount of women in elected office.)

Beyond elections, the survey also showed that 7 in 10 women thought President Joe Biden should uphold a commitment to nominate a Black woman to the U.S. Supreme Court. The polling was conducted before Biden announced he would nominate Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson to the high court.

Hunter noted that the foundation often talks about breaking the “imagination barrier” that exists when there’s a position that has been dominated by men for many years.

“When a woman breaks through into a position, it really opens up a new vision of what’s possible for other women and girls across the country — regardless of if they have an interest in maybe being a Supreme Court justice some day. It just shows a different level of possibility and serves as an inspiration,” she said.

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