SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
A weaker than expected jobs report is a setback for President Obama as the election nears. The president says that while private employers have added some four million jobs over the last two years, economic security remains elusive. The president spoke yesterday at a White House conference on women in the economy, and as NPR's Scott Horsley reports, voters who are women may be the key to the president's political future.
SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: President Obama says it's perfectly natural that politicians are paying special attention to women these days, but he was quick to add, women are not a monolithic voting block, or just another interest group.
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Women are over half this country and its workforce, not to mention 80 percent of my household if you count my mother-in-law, and I always count my mother-in-law.
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
HORSLEY: The White House issued a report highlighting its efforts to promote women's economic security, but Mr. Obama says even now women earn just 77 cents for every dollar that men make.
OBAMA: When more women are bringing home the bacon, but bringing home less of it than men who are doing the same work, that weakens families, it weakens communities, it's tough on our kids, it weakens our entire economy.
(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)
HORSLEY: Yesterday's conference came as the president's re-election team has been aggressively courting women voters and accusing Republicans of waging a war on women. Dianne Bystrom who heads the Catt Center for Women and Politics at Iowa State University says the effort appears to be working. A recent USA Today Gallop Poll of a dozen swing states found Mr. Obama enjoys an 18 point lead over Mitt Romney with women voters.
DIANNE BYSTROM: All of this discourse going on right now has brought a very sharp focus to an emerging gender gap which is certainly something that could play out in the general election in President Obama's favor.
HORSLEY: Bystrom says women have leaned Democratic for decades, but not by this much. Another poll by the Pew Research Center found a similar advantage for Mr. Obama with women nationwide, while men voters split pretty much down the middle. Bystrom suspects the recent controversies over birth control and Planned Parenthood have hurt Republicans with women voters. Romney's tried to downplay these issues while focusing attention elsewhere, including on his wife Ann.
MITT ROMNEY: My wife has the occasion, as you know, to campaign on her own and also with me, and she reports to me regularly that the issue women care about most is the economy and getting good jobs for their kids and for themselves.
HORSLEY: But Bystrom even when women and men have similar concerns, they don't always favor the same solutions. The Pew Poll, for example, found women more supportive of an active role for the government.
BYSTROM: As wife, mother, sisters, you know, especially the sandwich generation that takes not only care of their children, but their elderly parents, women more than men thought the government should take an activist role in helping elderly people, children and poor people.
HORSLEY: Bystrom also says women seem less concerned about the deficit and less hawkish about Iran than men, differences which could make them more supportive of the president. Four years ago, Bystrom says candidate Obama was less aggressive about making a specialized pitch to women, perhaps mindful many had backed his primary opponent, Hillary Clinton. This year she says Mr. Obama can't afford such restraint and can't take any potential supporters for granted.
BYSTROM: Democratic candidates need women to turn out and turn out in large numbers and vote predominantly for them to win elections, and so I actually think we're going to see more targeting of women voters by President Obama in this election than we did in 2008.
HORSLEY: Even without that targeting four years ago, almost ten million more women than men showed up to vote. Neither party could afford to ignore that kind of outsized influence. Scott Horsley, NPR News, the White House. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright National Public Radio.