Women Voters and What’s Wrong with the Media

Editor's Note: This post is a continuation of Camille Koue's last post, entitled "Courting Women Voters: Romney, Videos and Swing States."

In my last blog post I suggested that the Romney campaign might win the 2012 presidential election because of its understanding of the priorities of women voters in swing states. Well, I was right about women, but wrong about Romney.

My argument was based off a Gallup poll released on October 15, which showed Romney just one point behind Obama among likely women voters in critical swing states. By November 5, though, subsequent Gallup polls showed Obama leading Romney in the same demographic by a remarkable 16 points.
Is this dramatic difference in three weeks’ time possible? Or is this a case of putting the headline before the facts?

After Obama won the election I couldn’t help but wonder if the news media had been pulling the wool over my eyes in order to boost their profits. It seemed that after the election I kept hearing that people on the inside, people “in the know,” knew that Obama was a clear favorite from the beginning. From the coverage I had been watching and reading over the last few months, you could have fooled me. Why wasn’t the media “in the know”? After all, isn’t that, literally, their job?

On election night, Electronic Media and Politics held a fabulous Election Night Watch Party and Forumwhich included a number of panel discussions on different issues relating to media, politics and the 2012 election. One of the panels, titled “Stay On Message, Mr. President,” brought togetherCommunication, Culture & Technology (CCT) programprofessors Diana Owen and Kimberly Meltzer, along with CCT student Lucas Regnér and Matthew Hindman, assistant professor in the School of Media and Public Affairs at The George Washington University and author of The Myth of Digital Democracy. They came together to discuss the ways in which a new phase of political news reporting may have changed the actual coverage of politics and what implications these changes might have on democracy. Given that it seems so much of the reporting leading up to the election focused on the closeness of a presidential race that ended up not being close (Obama won the electoral college 332 to Romney’s 206, winning every contested swing state except North Carolina), the topic of political news coverage is important.

Dr. Owen said during the panel discussion that one of the most problematic aspects of current campaigning is that journalists are no longer out in the field, and this has a huge impact on the validity of information news organizations report. Furthermore, as Dr. Meltzer and Dr. Hindman argued, the link between the analysts and the journalists can be tricky. Dr. Hindman said that one of the main problems is the lack of statistics training given to many journalists, which means that news consumers think they are receiving high-level analysis of information from credible experts. In reality, though, they are receiving poorly interpreted data from journalists tasked with doing a job they are not trained to do.

News organizations may have been all over the map when predicting the political leanings of swing state women voters, but they never overestimated how important this demographic would be on election day. The women’s vote in general was arguably the most important vote in both the 2008 and 2012 elections, with ever-increasing political power going to unmarried women. According to the non-partisan Voter Participation Center, unmarried women make up the largest segment and the primary driver of the rising American electorate. In 2008, Obama won the unmarried women's vote by 70 percent and the women’s overall vote by 56 percent. In 2012, Obama received 68 percent of the unmarried women’s vote and 55 percent of the general women’s vote. It seems that equal pay, equal rights and the sound financial and emotional logic that go into family planning—all of which have become part of the Democratic platform—are topics that women, and especially unmarried women, care about.

With few exceptions (such as more local reporting and the remarkable accuracy of Nate Silver’s statistical predictions), I felt let down by the media’s political coverage this election cycle. It seems like the limbo I was kept in during the last few months was not based in reality but rather in a relatively new 24-hour news cycle that promotes competition and hyperbole over accurate reporting.

To Dr. Owen’s point, we need to get more journalists out on the campaign trail so that we can get some good, on-the-ground information that is robust and reliable. But I was not let down by women. Less than 100 years after being given the right to vote, we are showing off our power, and staking a claim in the future of this country.

After November 6, women increased their Senate numbers from 17 to 20 and their House of Representatives numbers from 73 to at least 81 (some seats are still waiting final election results). New Hampshire has become the first state with an all-women congressional delegation, in addition to its governor-elect Maggie Hassan. No matter which party these women represent and which party women voted for, in 2012 women made some steps forward in equal representation. And that’s definitely a win.

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Camille Koué is pursuing her master’s degree in Communication, Culture & Technology at Georgetown University. She is focused on the intersection of technology, infrastructure and design and the effects these domains have on human relations, civic engagement and community development. A native of Oakland, Calif., she graduated from American University with degrees in Visual Media, Justice and Spanish Language.