As I wrote last week on TIME.com, the demographic that pollsters on both sides are watching most closely in this year’s election are older, non-college-educated white women. In this week’s dead-tree edition, we looked more closely at what is going on with this group that, as John Kerry’s former campaign manager Mary Beth Cahill notes, “are the ultimate swing voters and the ultimate late deciders.” Our new polling suggests that, yes, they have swung sharply with John McCain’s pick of Sarah Palin. But Obama is working hard to win them back, and the data suggests they may not be so enamored of Palin as they learn more about her.
UPDATE: One stat that didn’t make it into the story, but that demonstrates how volatile the female vote can be, and why it is important to watch it in a close election.
Ellen Malcolm of EMILY’s List pointed out to me that John Kerry had a 7-point lead among women coming out of the Democratic convention in 2004, but the exit polls on election day showed he won the women’s vote by only 3 percentage points. According to Ellen, that suggests that he lost the votes of 2.7 million women over that period. He ended up losing the popular vote by a total of just over 3 million votes.