Independent Women Hold the Keys to Power in the Midterms | Opinion

When it comes to deciding the key 2022 congressional races, the constituency that will make the greatest difference in the outcome is independent women. That is, women who do not currently identify as Democratic or Republican. In swing districts in swing states, if independent women can be motivated to vote, it could well decide whether Democrats can keep their Senate majority, and even hold on to the House of Representatives.

But how do you motivate them to vote?

A group called Leadership Now, led by Daniella Ballou-Aares, has taken on the problem. Part of Leadership Now's work is to assess how independent women might demonstrate the leadership necessary to keep Congress out of the clutches of anti-democratic MAGA Republicans. The group is working to assess how independent women in swing states respond on a variety of issues and candidate types to understand what could drive them to the polls—and vote for Democrats—in November.

To this end, Leadership Now commissioned a survey from Emerson College Polling which was extremely revealing in terms of the political views of independent women. This is the first major poll that focuses only on women who are independent and who live in five key swing states—Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin. It was intended to get at what the most purple of voters in the most purple of states feel about abortion, gun control, and democratic values, versus bread-and-butter economic issues, including inflation.

The Suffragettes Still Resonate.
People walk past a mural of suffragettes, featuring a representation of women seeking the right to vote, in Cheyenne, Wyoming, on Aug, 12, 2022. PATRICK T. FALLON/AFP via Getty Images

The views of independent women in these swing states when it comes to President Biden are not encouraging for Democrats. Independent women are more disapproving of the president than the general population and give him an average approval rating across the five states of 26 percent. At the same time, 43 percent overwhelmingly rated the economy as their top issue. Abortion access and gun control only rated as the top issue among only 9 percent and 6 percent of independent women respectively.

But things change dramatically when it comes to which candidate women would choose in an actual vote. While the candidate who focuses on economic issues was chosen by 56 percent of women, 44 percent chose the candidate who prioritized abortion access.

Results are even more striking when it comes to gun control: 54 percent of women chose candidates who support it, versus 46 percent who prioritized pocketbook issues. Moreover, they do not view the issue of crime and safe neighborhoods – viewed as a "good" Republican issue – anywhere near as importantly as gun control when each are compared to the importance of gas and grocery prices.

In addition, these voters resoundingly reject the Big Lie that the 2020 election was stolen from former President Donald Trump. The independent women surveyed preferred candidates who have denounced the right-wing riot at the Capitol that took place Jan. 6, 2021, over those that espouse the Big Lie, and by a very large margin—69 percent to 31 percent.

When examined more closely it's clear, and not surprising, that choice on abortion is supported much more heavily in the 18-34 age group. Interestingly, the gun control issue resonates markedly not only with the 18-34-year-old independent woman, but also very much with women over 65 as well.

Synthesizing the insights from the Leadership Now/Emerson Poll, despite Biden's lack of popularity among those surveyed, these women are inclined to support Democratic congressional candidates.

This bellwether constituency is inclined to agree with Democratic policies on issues that drive the most passion and interest. And in Arizona, Michigan, and Pennsylvania—the states where flipping legislatures from Republican control is most in reach—independent women favor electing a Democrat over a Republican to Congress by an average of 14 percent. That is a huge margin given that recent national polls put the Democrats' advantage on the generic Congressional ballot to be somewhere in the range of 1 percent and 3 percent. What is also encouraging for the Democrats is that across all five states, independent women tend to be more educated than women overall, and Democrats tend to do better among highly educated voters.

The problem for Democrats may be motivation. Across the various age segments, the percentage of independent women who indicated they were very motivated to vote was 54 percent, with 43 percent only somewhat motivated or not very motivated. Those somewhat and not very motivated voters need to come out if Democrats have any chance of holding the House.

It is always a challenge in any election to get the youngest segment of voters to the polls—and the 18-34 age group is where there is the greatest alignment between independent women and Democratic policies. One of the reasons behind 18-34 year-olds' disinterest in the political process is a feeling that "promises are never kept so what difference does my vote make?" It is worth noting that beyond the debate on the merits of student loan relief, the simple fact that President Biden delivered on that issue may be perceived as proof to this age cohort that a politician can keep their promises, and thus potentially help to get those younger voters out.

Another promising sign for Democrats is the unprecedented turn out in the Kansas referendum on abortion, and certain special election races held this summer, it seems Democratic-leaning voters are turning out more heavily than expected. The question is, will an off-year election bring out women in swing states who are less motivated at levels that can truly swing an election. Over the next two months, Democrats need to do less work to persuade these voters on the issues, and far more motivating them to get to the polls.

Leadership Now has shown that the votes are there – we need the Democratic campaign and party leadership now to get those votes out.

Tom Rogers is an editor-at-large for Newsweek, the founder of CNBC and a CNBC contributor. He also established MSNBC and is the former CEO of TiVo. Currently, executive chair of Engine Gaming & Media, and a member of Keep Our Republic, an organization dedicated to preserving the nation's democracy.

The views expressed in this article are the writer's own.