Poll: More women voters backing Obama

April 2, 2012 at 3:22 PM ET

Charles Dharapak / AP file /
Pictured: President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama. A new poll shows the president taking a lead over Mitt Romney among women.

Women voters in a dozen key swing states have propelled President Obama into a sizable lead in the 2012 contest — a surge that is likely fueled in part by a heated public debate over contraception coverage.

According to a USA TODAY/Gallup Poll, Obama has a lead of 51% to 42% over Republican front-runner Mitt Romney. This figure is up from last month when Obama was behind Romney by two percentage points.

The biggest bump came from women under 50, according to the poll, among whom Romney’s favorability shrinks to 30%. Six in 10 women under 50 in those states now support Obama.

Liberal female political activists say the battle over reproductive rights will be one of the defining issues of the 2012 election.

“I think this is an Anita Hill moment for my generation,” Erin Matson, action vice president for the National Organization for Women told TODAY.com. “What we’re seeing as young women is this galvanizing moment.”

Last week during a panel at the 92nd Street Y in New York and a similar Feminist Majority Foundation forum at the Capital Hilton Hotel in Washington on Thursday, politically active women expressed concern about what they see as an election year backlash against such women’s issues as contraception.

“It’s astonishingly frequently older men who think they know what’s best for women,” Matson said.

The culture wars were sparked anew earlier this year when the Obama administration announced that employees of religious institutions seeking contraception would receive mandatory insurance coverage.

Heated congressional debate soon followed.

Democratic lawmakers on Capitol Hill — most of them women — railed against a Republican-led, all-male panel on the issue. Conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh waded into the fray and called Georgetown law student and birth control activist Sandra Fluke a “slut” and “prostitute” for speaking out about the issue during an unofficial Democrat-led committee hearing.

Some female political activists point to Limbaugh’s comments, along with uproar over a Virginia measure that would have required women to have a vaginal ultrasound before getting an abortion and backlash over Romney’s comments about eliminating federal funding to Planned Parenthood as proof that women’s reproductive rights are under attack.

Women at both panels last week also discussed the need for women to get more involved in politics. Women are more likely to vote Democratic, but the divide in the USA Today/Gallup Poll reflects a deeper schism, political experts say.

“There’s no question there’s been more of a talk about women’s issues,” Nathan Gonzales, deputy editor of the non-partisan Rothenberg Political Report told TODAY.com. “Women are one block of swing voters and Republicans can’t afford to get wiped out with women voters or they're not going to be successful in their districts, the states or in the general.”

More:President Obama doing well among women, approval rating-wise 

Former first daughter Chelsea Clinton to Sandra Fluke: I've been there 

Gillibrand: Contraception debate will cost GOP votes 

Woman called 'slut' by Limbaugh is 'stunned, outraged' 

Video: Clinton: Where women are marginalized, 'rights are denied' 

TODAY.com political contributor Halimah Abdullah is the site’s woman in Washington.