From the very first straw poll, women became a bipartisan theme of the 2012 presidential race. Early on, Minnesota Congresswoman Michele Bachmann tossed her hat into the ring for the Republican ticket, and pundits pondered whether 2008 vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin would make another run. In Congress, debates over government-provisioned healthcare centered on reproductive rights and women's access to birth control and abortion. Once that dust settled in Congressional halls, proposed legislation to close the gender wage gap kicked up the two-party tug-of-war yet again [source: Miller]. At the center of the conversations that sprang from these election-season developments? Female voters.
But politicians be warned: Coming out in solid support of "women's issues" doesn't guarantee luck with the ladies. Any male-female divide on reproductive rights, in particular, is slim to none. Roughly equal proportions of men and women support and oppose legalized abortion; same goes for a religious exemption to cover birth control under employer-provided health insurance [source: Pew Research Center].
Even more telling, the 2008 Democratic showdown between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama underscored that women won't necessarily vote for another woman. In fact, a 2008 study conducted at Northwestern University found that women may actually hold female political candidates to a higher standard and instead opt for their male opponent, whom they may consequently deem more qualified for the job. Related research has found that candidates' appearances sway people's political preferences, and in the Northwestern study, the women participants were more likely to vote for an approachable-seeming fictional male candidate than a comparatively more attractive fictional female candidate in the simulation [source: Chiao, Bowman and Gill].
Women also become a far more politically diverse group when their voting habits are analyzed based on factors such as race, age and marital status. For example, minority women, women under 50 and college-educated women consistently lean liberal [source: Kuhn]. Older married women, on the other hand, swing more conservative, as do their younger counterparts in rural regions. Adding more wrinkles to the electoral map, modern politicians have also witnessed the rise of independent voters of both genders, who don't align with a political party and comprise a record-high 40 percent of the American voters [source: Neuman].
Those broad variations are one reason, too, that one of the quickest ways to alienate the "pink vote" is to campaign as though targeting women will result in a Pepto-tinted tidal wave of estrogen-addled adoration -- and landslide votes [source: Henneberger]. Twenty-first-century female voters may still champion modern iterations of the "maternalist" issues supported by their 20th-century foremothers who first won the right to vote. But if there's one thing that men and women have in common at the polls, it's that ultimately gender doesn't determine which lever is pulled.