How to Win Mom’s Vote

This piece originally appeared in U.S. News.

What do mothers really want on Mother’s Day? Yes, homemade cards, flowers and a dinner out are all very nice, but in this turbulent election year, how about giving moms a gift that could make a real difference in their lives? How about presidential candidates who listen to their needs and take their concerns seriously?

Why would they do so? Because more than 20 million moms with kids at home are likely to vote in the presidential election this fall, but the very real concerns they have for their children are too often overlooked.

In the 2012 presidential race, nearly 10 million more women than men voted for president – 71.4 million women versus 61.6 million men, according to the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University. This November, women again are likely to outnumber men at the polls and a significant number of them – more than 1 in 4 – will be moms with kids under 18 living at home.

These mothers – 70 percent of whom are working – could be a powerful force in November. To understand the concerns of this influential voting bloc, Shriver Media, Save the Children and our political advocacy arm Save the Children Action Network commissioned a comprehensive survey examining the attitudes and aspirations of moms. We not only asked moms about the candidates they support for president, but also about the policies they want candidates to prioritize and their expectations about their own futures and those of their children.

Conducted by the polling firm PSB in March, the nonpartisan survey represents the views of more than 1,000 American mothers likely to vote. Among the major findings:

  • Moms of all political persuasions see education reform as the next president’s number one task. In fact, 83 percent of mothers – Republicans, Democrats and independents – said they would likely support a political candidate who is in favor of expanding quality early childhood education programs in the U.S., which they believe is critical to America’s future.
  • A majority of moms believe America is becoming a worse place to raise kids due to violence (their top concern) as well as a sluggish economy, unraveling values and a failing education system. Only 15 percent say America is becoming a better place to raise children.
  • Two-thirds of moms believe their children are less safe than they were as children. Mothers rank declining moral values (35 percent), violence in schools (33 percent), sexual predators (27 percent) and bullying (26 percent) at the top of their list of concerns for their children.
  • The survey also found significant differences between older and younger moms. Millennial moms – those aged 18 to 34 – are the fastest growing group of mothers and are considerably more optimistic and secure in what society expects of them than older moms, according to the survey. However, more than two-thirds of working millennial moms said that the American business culture had made it “nearly impossible” to balance family and work, compared to less than half of older moms in the survey.
  • Moms expressed confidence in their children, despite the challenges they face. Nine in 10 moms said they are “very” or “somewhat” optimistic about their children’s future, with white mothers most likely to say that America is becoming a worse place to raise kids. The vast majority of moms expressed hope for their children but added that their children would have to work harder than they did to become successful.

In terms of the presidential race, most mothers agree that candidates who are themselves mothers will do more for children than candidates who are not. Not surprisingly, then, the survey showed Democrat Hillary Clinton leading the field with 28 percent of the vote, followed by Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, who is also running for the Democratic nomination, with 20 percent, real estate developer Donald Trump, the Republican front-runner, with 15 percent and Texas GOP Sen. Ted Cruz with 8 percent.
Overall, many moms are weary and overwhelmed. Most are living paycheck to paycheck. They say the leading causes of stress in their lives are paying their bills on time and being a good parent.

So this Mother’s Day, the best gift would be presidential candidates who listen to moms about what matters most to them: quality education and keeping kids safe. And this November moms too will be listening, and the candidates with the strongest platforms that invest in kids could gain the most support from mothers at the ballot box.

Carolyn Miles is president and CEO of Save the Children, based in Fairfield, Conn.

Mark Shriver is president of the Save the Children Action Network, the political advocacy arm of Save the Children, based in Washington, D.C.