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Last Updated: Sunday, 24 October, 2004, 12:04 GMT 13:04 UK
Women undecided in US election
By Laura Trevelyan
BBC News, Washington DC

Women at a Bush rally
Bush enjoys more support from women than Republicans in the past
Women are having a hard time making up their minds who to support in this White House race.

Opinion polls suggest 60% of the undecided voters in this election are women.

And pollsters believe that they may not make up their mind until they enter the polling booth.

The threat of terrorism is a major concern for women, but they come to different conclusions on which candidate would best keep them and their children safe.

'Security moms'

Celinda Lake, an opinion pollster in Washington DC who carries out work for the Democrats, has a thumbnail sketch of that swing female voter.

"She's independent, working outside the home, not college educated, very worried about health care, committed to public schools and thinks the economy is in bad shape. She's suburban and only goes to church on holidays."

Celinda Lake, pollster
Women will decide this election but we won't know how they've decided it until the polls have closed
Celinda Lake, Democratic pollster
Traditionally women are more likely to vote Democrat in the presidential election - and a majority of women are supporting John Kerry.

But pollsters say Senator Kerry has underperformed with women voters.

Whereas Al Gore won the women's vote by 10 percentage points in 2000, Mr Kerry is on average ahead by between five and seven points - worrying for his strategists.

George Bush has more of the women's vote than Republicans usually enjoy.

His strategists put this down to the "security mom" factor - mothers with children concerned about terrorist attacks who perceive Mr Bush to be the leader who will best protect America.

There is an argument among opinion pollsters about whether "security moms" actually exist - some say such women were conservative supporters even before 9/11, whereas others say the "soccer moms" credited with putting Bill Clinton into the White House became "security moms" in the aftermath of the attacks.

Terrorism a major concern

To try to find out what is motivating women voters in the 2004 election, I went to West Virginia, a state which voted Democrat during the Clinton years but swung to George Bush in 2000.

Judy Mills, hairdresser
Judy Mills: The registered Democrat is voting for George Bush
In a hairdressers' salon in a mall outside Charles Town, I talked to Judy Mills, a 56-year-old hairstylist.

Judy is a registered Democrat and at the mention of Bill Clinton, her face becomes animated. "I would vote for him again today if he was standing," she said.

"And me too," shouted out her daughter from across the salon.

However, John Kerry probably will not get Judy's vote this time - the terrorist attacks of 9/11 have made her more inclined to support George Bush.

"I just don't feel safe any more," said Judy. "The terrorists could strike any time."

Over in a Charles Town diner, 25-year-old Michele Guynot has reached the opposite conclusion.

Michele, who works at the nearby military university, is taking the election very seriously. Iraq and terrorism are her preoccupations.

As she pondered what to have for lunch, she explained how she had chosen her candidate for the White House.

Michele Guynot, university administrator
Michele Guynot: After reviewing the facts, she is voting for John Kerry
"The war is my really big issue and I wanted a leader who is strong and I thought that was Bush. But when I researched the issues, watched the debates, I really felt he was going the wrong way with it."

Outside the Charles Town courthouse, where early voting has already begun, was Amie Puppos, a 28-year-old mother of three who works as an accountant.

Amie is still undecided about how to vote - and so is her husband.

They discuss the political events of the day every night over dinner, as they try to come to a decision.

Amie wants a president who will provide a safe future for her children, and so far neither George Bush nor John Kerry has won her over.

She worries that if she makes the wrong decision when she casts her vote, then the war on terrorism will be adversely affected.

"I think I'm going to decide at the very last minute," Amie said.

She is not alone, according to Celinda Lake, the opinion pollster: "Women will decide this election, but we won't know how they've decided it until the polls have closed."




BBC NEWS: VIDEO AND AUDIO
Why women voters are crucial to the US elections
Why women voters are crucial to the US elections




FROM OTHER NEWS SITES:
Los Angeles TimesNew Polls in Michigan and Nevada - 8 hrs ago
CBS News Bush & Kerry Split On Iraq Facts - 19 hrs ago
Independent Kerry meets his Waterloo in Iowa, the vital battleground at the heart of the nation - 29 hrs ago
Guardian Unlimited Bush, Kerry Visit Critical Iowa - 38 hrs ago
ABCNEWS.com Bush, Kerry Visit Critical Iowa - 38 hrs ago
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