I hate stories about blocs of voters. Whether it is the Catholic Vote or the Black Vote or the Evangelical Vote or the Whatever Vote, most political journalism that attempts to force a unifying frame on large numbers of disparate people is, to me at least, unsatisfying. My skepticism about such efforts begins with me. If a journalist were writing about the political inclinations of a white Anglo-Saxon Protestant born in the South in the era I was born, that journalist would assign me to a Republican category. But I am neither a Republican nor a Democrat. I have voted for candidates of both parties at different times for different reasons. Sometimes I have punched the ballot (at home in Tennessee) or pulled the lever (here in New York) out of intellectual conviction, sometimes because I just felt a certain way about the candidate in question. I suspect that many of you will recognize yourself in that pattern—which is to say, you do not fit neatly into any pattern.
Why, then, a cover on "What Women Want"? Because something is clearly going on among white female voters in the country that is not going on in other groups. (Our focus is on white women; African-American women overwhelmingly favor Barack Obama and Joe Biden.) The NEWSWEEK Poll found that there has been an 11-point shift among white women in support for John McCain since he chose Sarah Palin as his running mate. There was no change in his support among white men in our poll. Why? As Julia Baird writes, the answers are complicated and varied. "What is now known as the Palin effect has taken both Democrats and Republicans by surprise, and is overturning almost a century of wisdom about the way women think and vote," writes Julia. "Republican women, who have long been loath to vote for mothers of small children, are suddenly defending the right of women, or a woman, rather, to return to work three days after giving birth, and to seek higher office with five kids—one of whom is a pregnant teenager and another a newborn with Down syndrome. And Democratic women are threatening to defect to the Republicans and vote for pro-life candidates simply because Palin is a woman."
Many find the proposition that a woman would vote for a ticket with a woman on it simply out of gender identification offensive and baffling. Julia's essay, however, argues that history suggests issues of policy will finally triumph over the politics of identity. Whether it does or not may determine who becomes the 44th president.
Last Friday, after the final numbers of the NEWSWEEK Poll came in showing the shift for McCain-Palin, Pat Wingert, a correspondent in our Washington bureau who covered Geraldine Ferraro in 1984 for a Chicago paper, asked the former New York congresswoman what she made of the Palin effect. "In 1984, when Fritz [Mondale] gave me the nomination, he was 15 or 16 points behind, and his announcement brought us dead even with Reagan in the polls that were done after the convention … We drew huge crowds. The Secret Service told me that we had the largest crowds they'd seen since JFK … It was exciting, and people wanted to be a part of the candidacy. But it doesn't necessarily translate into votes."
With reporting from Pat, Richard Wolffe, Karen Springen, Suzanne Smalley, Kurt Soller, Eve Conant, HollyBailey and Daniel Stone, Julia's argument charts the complexities of the movement for women's suffrage and finds that the story of women and politics is as richly contradictory and puzzling as the story of men and politics. In an ironic column, Dahlia Lithwick argues that the Supreme Court might be the better place for Palin. The Alaskan governor's relative youth, orthodoxy and real-world experience are virtues, Dahlia says, that have historically made the high court a more interesting place.
Ferraro gets the last word. "I've been saying for 24 years that women candidacies—I'm not talking about me, specifically, or Hillary or Governor Palin—but women's candidacies have a larger effect," she told Pat. "They are like tossing a pebble into a lake, because of all the ripples that go out from there."