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Media missing real story of women voters

It all started with the fashion phrase, "Pink is the new black." Pink had replaced black as the "in" wardrobe color. Then, orange was the new pink, and so on. "Is two the new three?" chirped The Wall Street Journal last week in an article about how upper-income stay-at-home moms are now bearing three children instead of the formerly requisite two. Well, here's my take. Women are the new men.

"What?" say you. Calm down. I'm not talking about transgendered individuals. I'm talking about the media's Janie-come-lately focus on women voters.

Just in the past two weeks we've witnessed a revolution in media cognizance of the importance of women voters. It's a seismic shift from a rather blas "who cares?" attitude to a rocketlike focus on a major story and one the media have been missing all along — women voters' changing preferences in the political arena. Suddenly we're famous. We're rock stars. We're more coveted than that sexy undecided voter. All this because we temporarily shifted favorites from Sen. John Kerry to President Bush in early September. But the media ignored the fact women did this without breaking pace in a trend that's been in development for years.

Why are women voters so suddenly important? It should not have been sudden at all. We make up more than half the U.S. population. We vote more reliably than our husbands, partners, brothers and fathers. In fact, 8 million more of us voted in 2000 than did men. This is not new. Women's participation in the democratic progress has risen steadily ever since passage of the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

OK, so we tend to change our minds more often than men (that's a woman's prerogative, isn't it?). With media fascination surrounding the coveted undecided voter and those "undecideds" hogging all the cachet, we women are most (60 percent) of them.

But the media have been woefully ignorant in relegating us to a secondary position before mid-September. Women voters have been making fascinating news all along. For example, the media are so mired in yesterday ("yesterday's news tomorrow") they barely noticed a major change trend affecting women's partisan affiliations over time.

Most media accounts would have you believe the Democrats have controlled the women's vote for decades. That's true, but only for certain segments of women and fewer of them.

As women earn more wealth and wield more power, their political concerns shift along with their economic status. It may surprise you to learn Bush actually won the votes of white married women in the last election. Why? Because this is the wealthiest slice of the female demographic. These women, like men, vote their pocketbooks (i.e., they respond to the strongest appeal of the GOP because they want lower taxes).

Single white women and minority women (who tend to have lower incomes than married white women) voted so fervently for then-Vice President Al Gore, they delivered him an 11 percent majority of the women's vote.

Why? Because they are much more likely to rely on government services (health care, Social Security, etc.). Tax cuts are less important to lower-income Americans.

White women have been trending more and more Republican for years, like their men. Whether they are mainly driven by finances (i.e., lower taxes) or the Caucasian patina of the GOP (say all they want about diversity, the GOP still boasts many, many fewer elected officials, convention delegates and loyalists of color than do the Democrats). So black-and-white the distinction is becoming (pun intended) that a Democratic pollster recently confessed to me she fears the party will lose the white women's vote altogether, one day soon.

So while the media have fixated this season on NASCAR dads, security moms, the investor class, the undecided voters, the small-business owners, white suburbanites, Metros, Retros and God knows what else, they've completely overlooked a fascinating and much more important story: the female voter and how she evolves as she continues her march for a fair share of power and influence.

Bonnie Erbe, TV host, writes this column for Scripps Howard News Service. E-mail