Women voters can make or break O

Race to White House: Will they vote him like the last time?

Women helped propel Barack Obama to the White House in 2008, but their flagging enthusiasm for him reflected in recent polls has created uncertainty about who will capture the female vote in Tuesday's election.

Four years ago, women voters supported Obama over Republican John McCain by 56 per cent to 43 per cent. Among men, the Democrat led McCain by just 49 per cent to 48 per cent.

But women's enthusiasm for Obama as president has slipped this year, making his road to re-election more difficult.

He is narrowly favoured to win the female vote, but in many national polls, the incumbent's lead over Republican Mitt Romney among likely women voters has dipped to single digits. Reuters/Ipsos polling data last week had it at nearly 5 percentage points.

He trailed among likely male voters by about 6 points.

Republicans point to Romney's gains with women since his strong performance in the first presidential debate on October 3. Marguerite Hunsinger, 59, of Flagler Beach, Florida, who had been undecided, said the debate shifted her to Romney's camp. "I'd been very, very skeptical about Romney," said Hunsinger, a self-described homemaker. "And I just thought he acted very presidential and capable, and he had answers that I agreed with more."

In contrast, she said Obama "was like asleep. It felt like he was just wasn't there."

Romney's camp accuses Democrats of condescending to women by overemphasizing issues like contraception when polls show men and women both care more about jobs and the economy. Democrats note that Obama continues to hold significant leads among women in the decisive swing states and say the women's vote will help propel him to victory. Women comprise more than half of the U.S. electorate, and in presidential elections, about 7 per cent more women vote than men.

Democrats insist that Obama outshines Romney on many issues important to female voters, from healthcare to education, equal pay and fair taxes. Evelyn Miranda, 47, of Hialeah, Florida, said she had been undecided, but recently embraced Obama because of his positions on social issues and insistence that the wealthy pay higher taxes. "He wants to tax people more who make more money. I am really for that a lot," she said.

"Certainly, team Obama would like to see their national margin among women higher," said Tufts University political scientist Richard Eichenberg, who is tracking this year's gender gap and estimates Obama's lead among women nationally at 8 percentage points. "In 2008, he had an extra cushion when he won big (+13 among women), and Gore won narrowly with +11. So I think that they would like that 8-point number a little higher," Eichenberg said.

But Obama's standing among women remains strong in the battleground states he will need to clinch all-important electoral votes. "He leads among women by large margins in virtually all the swing states," Eichenberg said.

For example, in Ohio, Eichenberg noted polls during October showed Obama with a 12-point lead among likely women voters.

Romney's solid showing - and Obama's poor one - in the first debate in Denver upended the presidential race. Obama had been building a lead before he and Romney first went head-to-head. Romney has since gained steadily in the polls.

For the week ended September 30, just before the debate, Reuters/Ipsos poll data showed Obama leading Romney by 52 per cent to 41 per cent among a sample of 1,022 likely women voters. He also led among likely men voters, by 47 per cent to 44 per cent.

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