Exclusive: Poll finds women want pandemic help but ‘equity’ not driving issue

WASHINGTON – A new poll highlights the myriad challenges women have faced during the pandemic, with about half of those surveyed saying they’ve suffered from depression, anxiety or other mental health issues since it began.

The Biden administration has tried to address ways the pandemic has often hit women harder than men – in job losses and a disproportionate burden of care for children and the elderly.

That attention could pay political dividends in the midterm elections, in which women could play a significant role.

But the Lake Research Partners survey, provided first to USA TODAY, also indicates the overarching goal of gender equity – which President Joe Biden has emphasized – is not as significant to women as are specific types of help such as improving health care access. That’s particularly true for independents and Republican women.

Fewer than half of all women surveyed said that enforcing gender equity by including provisions in the $1.9 trillion coronavirus assistance package to support women would have “a big impact, or “some impact,” on themselves and their family. Only 39% of independents and 25% of GOP women said it would.

But around six in 10 respondents, including more than four in ten Republican women, said that expanding health care coverage and lowering health insurance premiums would have “a big impact” or “some impact.”

A new poll finds broad support among women for child care that's available on evenings and weekends.

The survey also found broad support for a child care initiative that Biden has championed: having states help child care providers offer nontraditional hours to accommodate parents working evenings and weekends.

About three-quarters of all women surveyed favored the idea, including 68% of GOP women.

“Democrats tend to be pretty motivated about enforcing gender equity…but independent women and Republican women less so,” said Democratic pollster Celinda Lake. “In general, they’re really, really focused on specific pocket book and kitchen table issues with a heavy, heavy economic overlay.”

The online survey of 1,000 adult women, conducted in early April, is the first of the firm’s periodic tracker poll measuring women’s views and how they may evolve in the runup to the 2022 elections.

As has been the case for every Democratic presidential nominee since 1996, a majority of women favored Joe Biden in 2020.

While the presidential gender gap is well known, Lake said there’s been less attention to how women are often the decisive factor in off-year elections. Democrats have to win women by a bigger margin than they lose men while Republicans try to limit their losses with women. That battle can be more intense in a midterm election when turnout typically decreases among other voting groups, Lake said.

Although it’s early, seven in 10 women surveyed said they are either almost certain to vote in 2022 (58%) or will probably vote (12%).

Republicans have hoped to score points against Biden by accusing him of not doing more to reopen schools, burdening women who are often overseeing remote learning and providing the child care.

The survey asked women about the significance of aspects of the coronavirus relief package. About half said providing aid to help K-12 schools safely reopen will have a big, or some, impact on themselves and their family. Nearly half said the same for mental health services and for food, housing and unemployment assistance.

Respondents saw the biggest benefit in the package’s direct payments, with 74% saying that will have more than a little impact.

Vice President Kamala Harris speaks about the Biden administration's decision to release $39 billion of American Rescue Plan funds to address the child care crisis caused by COVID-19 on April 15 in Washington.

While the Lake Research Partners’ poll only assessed the experiences of women, a Kaiser Family Foundation survey of both men and women from March found that younger adults and women were among those most likely to report that stress and worry related to the pandemic has affected their mental health.

The challenges women said they’ve faced during the pandemic are many.

About one in four surveyed by Lake Research Partners have had wages or hours reduced and have needed help from a food pantry or meal program. Nearly three in ten have faced serious stress in a marriage or relationship. Nearly half have either postponed, or gone without, a visit to the dentist while 37% have put off some other type of medical care.

Women of color were significantly more likely than white women to have faced challenges with food insecurity, finances and employment. They were also particularly likely to say that components of the coronavirus relief package will have a big impact on themselves and their family.

The package includes a temporary boost in subsidies for private insurance for people who aren’t covered by an employer or a government plan like Medicare or Medicaid. While the survey indicates strong appeal for initiatives to reduce premiums and expand health care access, the administration hasn’t yet proposed a way to make the expanded subsidies permanent or to institute different changes.

Conducted April 6 through April 12, the survey has a margin of error of 3.1 percentage points.

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