» By PHILIP SPARN – psparn@my.apsu.edu

As the 2012 elections near, the presidential campaigns are tightening their focus on the largest and arguably most important segment of voters, women.

The presidential contest has essentially become a two-person race between former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and incumbent President Barack Obama. These candidates, along with both parties, are wasting no time in attempting to appeal to women voters and gain or bolster their support.

Recently, both the Romney and Obama campaigns seized on some ill-advised and controversial words said by a Democratic CNN contributor, to demonstrate their support for women and mothers. Both campaigns used this opportunity to point out all women work hard and face many challenges, whether it is raising children or managing a career or both.

“There needs to be a constructive national conversation about women’s issues, with women actually at the table, instead of a rhetorical war among men,” said Marsha Lyle-Gonga, assistant Political Science professor.

Regardless of where each side stands on women’s issues and the challenges of motherhood, Republicans, especially Romney, are facing an uphill battle when it comes to winning the ever so important women vote.

A CNN/ORC poll released last week indicates a majority of women believe Obama is “more in touch with the problems facing women today.” The CNN poll reveals Romney faces a 16-point deficit among women voters, when compared to Obama.

Historically women have voted Democrat, creating a “gender-gap” for Republicans.

In the 2008 Presidential elections, Obama received 56 percent of the women vote over U.S. Sen. John McCain.

The Democrats have received a majority of the women vote for over 30 years, according to the Pew Research Center.

Some point to the types of policies supported and implemented by each party as the main reason for the historic trend of a majority of women voting Democrat. Some also point to the paternal instincts of women, for the reason why they typically support liberal policies that focus on equality, federal assistance and taking care of the needy.

“Democrats have historically focused on policies and programs that directly benefit women, such as healthcare access, government assistance, food stamps, WIC, childcare and early childhood education programs,” Lyle-Gonga said.

Lyle-Gonga points out that, recently, Republicans have opposed or attempted to limit and cut some of these programs and benefits.

“Women will look to the economy as a key factor in their voting decision as always, but they will also look at the bare bones issues that directly affect them, their choices and access to these choices as well,” Lyle-Gonga said.

The President’s supporters suggest Obama has focused on women’s issues and has shown devotion to American women of all types. Supporters point to Obama’s work on building our economy fairly, health care, health care access, education, federal assistance and on his work in ensuring an equal pay workforce — to demonstrate Obama’s devotion to helping all women in America.

Romney presumably comes to the general election campaign after a hard-fought and drawn out Republican primary race with some political bumps and bruises to show for it, especially in women’s support.

Some blame the debate over women’s health issues, such as the access to reproductive health care and cutting funding for Planned Parenthood, as the main reason for the increased gender gap Romney is facing.

Some solely blame the negative effects of the primary process for his negative poll numbers.

Romney’s supporters suggest he has shown great compassion and care towards women and all Americans and will work hard to ensure everyone has access to a growing and robust economy, full of choices and opportunities for women.

Republicans suggest women are not looking for specific social programs and benefits and they would actually prefer to have a healthy economy and economic freedom rather than any particular government program or benefits.

“Women want more and better opportunities for their children and their grandchildren to live and preserve the American dream,” Rep. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn, said in a recent interview on Rush Limbaugh’s radio talk show.

Blackburn pointed out most women are experiencing the effects of the Democratic Party and Obama’s economic policies, which includes the high costs of gas prices, healthcare, accelerated spending and negative job growth.

“Women do not want to be dependent on the federal government for education, home loans, student loans and for their health care,” Blackburn said. “They want to make their own decisions that are best for them and their families.”

Susan Cockrell, assistant professor of Accounting, points out neither side or candidate is offering many new or bold economic solutions that are certain to help women and their pocketbooks.

“Women have a lot at stake this election … Women have to vote for the candidates that represent their interests,” said Jill Eichhorn, associate professor of English and coordinator of Women’s and Gender studies. “It is vital that women have choices and the ability to make these choices — especially when it comes to choices about their own careers, families, reproductive health and health care decisions.”

Cockrell said women today are still facing many issues of inequality, access, choices and responsibility.

Lyle-Gonga points to data that demonstrates women are poorly represented in politics and leadership positions even though they represent a majority of the voters in past elections.

In the 2008 elections, women placed 53 percent of the votes. However, women only make up 17 percent of representatives in Congress, according to the Rutgers Center for American Women and Politics.

Lyle-Gonga believes the campaigns that focus on women’s issues in a positive and constructive manner are going to come out ahead in women’s eyes.

“Women are not one monolithic voting block that candidates can win over with one particular speech or promise,” Cockrell said. “Women are extremely intelligent, wise and ideologically diverse.” TAS