In spite of the hype from Fox News that the gender gap of women voting in Democrats’ favour has vanished, a new Gallup poll revealed that this year’s gap was the largest ever recorded in the polling company’s history.With Obama winning women by 12%, and Romney winning men by 8%, the full gender gap was an unprecedented 20 percentage points.
While analysts point to the obligatory “social safety net” appeal of Democrats for women, versus the entrepreneurship appeal of Republicans for men, few commentators are addressing the real reasons. Obama’s win, and the victories of the additional Democrats in Congress, are due to the Democrats’ success in appealing to minority voters, the youth vote and, in particular, women’s votes – by siding with each of those groups’ concerns on a variety of pertinent issues.
Jess McIntosh, a spokeswoman at the pro-choice Democratic advocacy group Emily’s List, analysed the role of women voters during this election thus:
“Emily’s list has been around for 27 years. We have been building the pipeline of women candidates who are ready for higher office. So when opportunities arise, we have a bench of strong women candidates ready to go. And they were ready to capitalise on this absolutely insane divisive social agenda.”
Republican extremists, she noted, have managed in past election cycles not to tip their hand about an agenda that broadly targets reproductive rights – let alone let slip their views regarding “legitimate rape”. So why did these messages come out now? McIntosh further explained:
“Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock simply said what the rest of the party has been thinking for a long time. Since the Republicans took over the House, they immediately went after women’s healthcare. House resolution 3 was the bill that redefined rape – with Paul Ryan as a co-sponsor. The fact that the party was going in that direction laid the ground work for Todd Akin. [He] wasn’t an outlier.”
A fund, Women Vote (the independent expenditure arm of Emily’s List), pays for issue-based ads, and spent $2m this year. Women Vote informed focus groups about Republican opposition to the Paycheck Fairness Act, which few women knew about:
“They were shocked to learn that anyone opposed measures to close the pay gap. When we tested the ad, the numbers were through the roof – 70% of the women thought that opposition to equal pay legislation was a reason to oppose Republicans. So we ran a lot of ads on this issue, in a number of battleground states.”
Women Vote also ran ads on reproductive rights, framing the issue in terms of “taking away women’s healthcare decisions”. McIntosh saw there was a stark difference between the two parties in terms of “who trusted women to make their own health decisions”, and attested the ads that ran on the issue moved independent female voters.
Was the gender gap decisive in Obama’s victory?
Women certainly were the reason he won, McIntosh said. “The second Romney picked Paul Ryan as his running mate, he clarified that this was an extremist ticket”. Was this shift in voting habits – especially by single women, who voted for Obama by 67% – a furious national Slutwalk? A defiant resistance to the legislation of women’s personal choices, but one that went all the way to the voting booths?
As Emily’s List’s president, Stephanie Shriock, put it, women were furious over what they were hearing from the Republicans, from the medically unnecessary transvaginal sonograms to the discussion of “legitimate rape”. In her analysis, Republicans had never before shown their hand completely in terms of what their goals were in relation to reproductive rights. With influence from the Tea Party this election cycle, that changed.
Rightwing women operatives are irate as well. Bush administration appointee Karen Hughes, writing in Politico last week, assailed Republican comments on rape and abortion:
“[I]f another Republican man says anything about rape other than it is a horrific, violent crime, I want to personally cut out his tongue … The college-age daughters of many of my friends voted for Obama because they were completely turned off by Neanderthal comments like the suggestion of ‘legitimate rape’.”
Hughes is the little-heralded but significant strategist who helped Bush beat Gore – to the extent that he was beaten – by making Republican men look moderate on women’s issues. Her trademark was forcing soft-focus, mainstream feminist imagery on anti-choice, paleo-conservative demagogues. She had Republican men bemoaning the Taliban’s attack on young girls’ education, thus selling the invasion of Afghanistan as a giant “Take our Daughters to Work Day” program.
When a woman as effective as Hughes are this angry about the losing hand that Republicans play when they resurrect their own homegrown Talibanism – by, for instance, redefining rape as less criminal or reprehensible in certain situations – we should take note.
The upshot of all this fury? Three new congresswomen brought to you by Emily’s List, all under the age of 40 – Grace Meng (New York), Tulsi Gabbard (Hawaii), and Kyrsten Sinema (Arizona) – are heading to Washington, DC.
As for the “legitimate rape” guy and the “rape is God’s will” dude (not to mention the “redefining rape bill” vice president hopeful)? In underestimating the wrath of women, they were sent home.
This article originally appeared on guardian.co.uk
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