Polling data over the past few weeks show Mitt Romney closing the gap among women voters. Although the numbers vary per poll and per state, the surge is such that even liberal commentators grudgingly have conceded that women appear more receptive to the Republican message of reformed entitlements and stable taxes — at least, how those policies were articulated by Romney in the first presidential debate — than they have been for the past three decades.
Many attribute this shift to Mitt Romney’s breakout performance during the first presidential debate, as well as a consistent, jobs-oriented message. However, Republicans and their allies must recognize that Romney’s new-found attractiveness among women is just as much a consequence of the Obama campaign’s misreading of the so-called ‘gender gap’ as it is the persuasiveness of conservative arguments.
The Obama campaign misunderstands why women vote Democratic. They mistake the gender gap as vindication for the party’s social policies, never questioning whether female support comes from elsewhere in the platform. The result is that Democrats have increasingly treated women like caricatures performing in a burlesque show, easily reeled in by condoms, a sexy voice, and sparkly legislation. Democrats ignore bread-on-the-table concerns like jobs and the economy, and, in effect, concede the framing of these issues to Republicans.
Never has this been more evident than the Obama campaign’s final few weeks. When the Obama campaign saw its edge among women slipping, it clenched its latest speaking points around what it viewed as vital women’s issues. It released several new ads attacking Mitt Romney’s stance on contraception, abortion, and equal pay, and went so far as attempting to link the Romney campaign with Richard Mourdock’s poorly-expressed comments regarding rape.
Perhaps most notoriously, the Obama campaign is circulating an ad narrated by Girls actress and creator Lena Dunham, which compared a vote for President Obama with a first time sexual encounter.
Absent from the discussion are ads explaining how Obama’s second term would fix the economic struggles particular to women.
Well, someone forgot to punch the new destination into the voting bloc’s GPS, because despite all the screams, sirens, and hazard signs, the force driving women into the Republican camp has not changed lanes. Polling trends continue to show Romney with a marked increase in female support. The appeal to so-called women’s issues has failed.
This disconnect is because the gender gap does not spring from a 1970s fount of social issues. Rather, the gender gap originates in the different ways men and women interpret and respond to problems. Men tend to lean libertarian and view hardships as personal challenges that need to be overcome by individuals. Women tend to be more communitarian and view the misfortune of others as a shared responsibility. The true distinction between men and women in politics, therefore, is tone of voice and the approach politicians bring to the debate.
What the Obama campaign forgets is that, for all these differences, at the end of the day men and women care about the same issues.
Women worry about the economy, and whether or not they will have job come graduation. They care about gas prices and question whether their family can afford a 30 minute drive to their son’s little league game. Women worry that current health care laws will discourage employers from hiring them full time once their kids are grown, and women fear that proposed regulations will cost them more control over their health care decisions than the absence of birth control subsidies ever could. And yes, women usually fret more over their children’s education than the administration’s belated response to threats to the Libyan embassy, but they also want the candidates to engage in a meaningful discussion as to why their school taxes rise but test results remain stagnant.
To their detriment, theObama campaign fails to address many of these issues in their women-specific ads. . By focusing chiefly on bedroom matters, the Obama campaign lets the Republicans seize the tenor of the debate. Medicare reform became not about slashing an entitlement but about preserving a compassionate program for future generations. Combined with a debate performance that emphasized compassion and solidarity, can it be any wonder why the Republicans have made inroads to many women voters?
The irony is that Democrats have a natural advantage in securing the support of women. Women, as a general rule, have an instinctive preference for social welfare policies, and the Democratic platform naturally thinks in terms of communitarian solutions. On the merits, the Obama campaign may have the stronger argument that its platform offers a more feminine perspective.
It is just a pity that we never had the chance to debate the merits. Instead, we got Lena Dunham telling us how pulling back the curtain and voting for Obama made her a woman. This type of strategy does not take the real lives of women seriously. It just gives the impression that Barack Obama does not get it.