A New Generation of Conservative Thought

Can Romney capture the female vote?

Reject liberal premises to attract women

By Dr. Grace Vuoto
April 13, 2012

Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney is now focusing on the general election campaign. He is addressing the loss of support among female voters: he trails President Barack Obama, 55 percent to 37 percent, according to an NBC/Wall Street Journal poll. GOP candidates consistently lose the female vote, having won a majority only in 2010, the first time in 37 years.

To win the support of women, Mr. Romney must reject the liberal premise that females care primarily about their reproductive rights. Abortion and contraception are now facts of life--rarely addressed by average women at the kitchen table. Conservative candidates make a fatal mistake by elevating these topics to the foreground; they are accepting the liberal notion that women are first and foremost obsessed with their sexuality or their sexual rights. For the most part, women have this aspect of their lives in balance, just like men. The recent Democratic HHS mandate and their election strategy to tar the GOP as waging a "war on women" is a trap for conservative candidates. In reality, women have more pressing matters on their mind.

Conservative leaders also often err by completely ignoring their own ideology on the campaign trail. They insist that gender differences are natural and real; they are part of God's design for the species. Yet, when they campaign, they sound as though men and women are exactly the same--again, accepting a radical liberal premise of equality among the sexes. Hence, conservative candidates often make bland, generic statements such as that women care about the economy, health care and national security as much as men. Indeed, women and men care about the same issues but in very different ways. Mr. Romney must craft a communications strategy tailored to their needs.

Has it ever occurred to Republicans that one reason Democrats win the female vote is because they say, over and over again, that they are a party that cares about women? It doesn't even matter whether this is true or not--the mere assertion leads many women to conclude: "I exist in that party; I don't exist in the other party. I'll vote for the party that acknowledges me: they must therefore care about me."

When a man seeks to win a woman's hand in romance, he asserts that she is special and unique. This is a primordial and universal rule of courtship--and women love to be courted. Why do Republicans fail to adopt the basic rules of courtship in their politics? Court the female vote and you will win it. Tell American women they are special and unique and that you will move mountains for them. Democrats make grandiose promises whereas Republicans mostly remain silent. This is like letting one's rival move in on one's girlfriend without saying a word. Does any woman respect this?

Furthermore, consider every issue that is currently dear to a male voter and ponder how one's grandmother or sister could be persuaded to vote along conservative lines. For example, a man might respond to the theme of the urgency of joblessness by hearing that the unemployment rate is very high; one's wife or mother is likely to be stirred if she hears of the specific suffering of an unemployed teenager or a of a community of workers who lose their jobs. Conservative candidates must personalize the message and show compassion for the suffering of specific people.

A man might vote based on how the deficit is affecting the economy; one's grandmother will likely need to be alarmed at the prospect of losing her life savings in the event of an inflationary cycle. Note the key tactic Democrats have mastered: women respond to an alarmist message that states their future security is in jeopardy. A man might say tax cuts are good for small businesses and will bring about economic growth; a woman might ponder how much more money this will allow her family to invest in her child's college fund. Hence, women do not respond to abstractions; they consider the immediate well-being of specific family members.

When it comes to reforming health care, Democrats skillfully assert that our current system is not fair--not everyone has health insurance and those with pre-existing conditions are denied access. Republicans argue that changing our system will lead to a "big bureaucracy" and "rationing." But they concede the fairness card to the Democrats: Why not assert that a lower level of health care for the nation is not fair to the sick and dying who have paid into a system their whole lives? Women are often the harmonizers, the peacemakers in their families: the fairness argument resonates as they often act as judge and jury among competing interests in their family and must be perceived as fair to resolve these adequately.

In addition, conservative candidates must also discuss issues that women care about: crimes committed against women and children; domestic violence; rape and sexual harassment; workplace discrimination; deadbeat Dads; specific women's illnesses or trials such as breast cancer and ovarian cancer, anorexia and bulimia. All of these can be mentioned in speeches, even if only as examples to make larger points. Women do not need more government programs: often simply using the bully pulpit and bringing attention to what ails and effects females is enough to energize and empower them--and convince them the candidate cares.

Mr. Romney has begun to do some things right; he is directly courting the female vote. Recently, in a series of speeches, he pointed out that women are not faring well in Mr. Obama's economy. ""Under President Obama, 858,000 more women are out of work," he said in Connecticut. "This president has failed America’s women and if I’m the next president of the United States I will go to work to get American women good jobs, rising incomes and growing businesses." He is on the right track by mentioning women's needs and then he veers off course by citing mind-numbing statistics.

He is also relying on his charming wife, Ann, to help attract female voters. She is an effective speaker because she uses many of the techniques mentioned above. For example, in one speech she discussed her battle with multiple sclerosis in intimate and moving terms: "You start feeling like you are not worth anything," she said. She explained how Mr. Romney consoled her by saying: "I know you think your life is over, but it's not. Together we can do anything." This simple tale does more to bolster Mr. Romney among women than hundreds of his policy speeches.

Mr. Romney has the skills to appeal to women. Years ago, he won the heart of the lovely Ann, who later became his wife. She says he is "funny, engaging, witty...the life of the party." We need to see that multi-dimensional, humane and heroic Mitt whom Ann is in love with.

-Dr. Grace Vuoto is the Executive Director of the Edmund Burke Institute for American Renewal.