As we hurtle toward the November elections, every candidate wants to engage women voters. It has nothing to do with popularity (although who doesn’t love that?) but “there are more women than men overall, more women registered to vote, and a higher female turnout rate,” Dianne Bystrom, director of Iowa State University’s Carrie Chapman Catt Center for Women and Politics, told the Christian Science Monitor in 2012.
So it’s pretty simple. It comes down to numbers.
And yet, I talk with women (on both sides of the aisle) who seem increasingly disengaged from politics. They give various reasons. Number one (by far) on the list: feeling bullied for expressing their beliefs. That’s followed by being sick and tired of gridlock, polarization, bickering, insults and politicians who say what is wrong with their opponent but offer no credible solutions to pressing issues. Overwhelmed in this economic climate, some just keep their heads down in an effort to keep their families financially afloat.
Sometimes it’s hard to tell if you’re listening to political rhetoric or an elaborate pitch for a new consumer product. Political blogs, ads, speeches and articles are filled with marketing and branding terms that would make any marketing honcho proud. In fact, Newsweek has discussed the “seamlessness of the candidate’s brand” in reporting on President Barack Obama while the Guardian noted in 2008 that he was “promoted in the same way as a trans-media, upmarket consumer brand.”
As for characterizing the other side, progressives gin up arguments about a so-called “war on women” propagated by Republicans, a venomous narrative that has the right floundering. Meanwhile, the true war waged on every American woman, regardless of political persuasion, is a shaky economy, usurious taxation and fiscal policies forcing them to raise their families with less money in their wallets and fewer moral supports.
So what can the GOP do to finally start engaging women? Let’s start by going back to basics.
- First of all, we fill many different roles: wife, mother, daughter, friend, employer, employee, community (dare I say it) organizer. Frame issues in terms of how your policies benefit us and those we care about.
- Keep your promises. To paraphrase Margaret Thatcher, don’t go wobbly on us when the going gets tough. If you run on an issue, find your inner spine and stick to your guns.
There can be little doubt where Gov. Paul LePage comes down on the issues. He gets things done, which is appealing to a large number of hardworking taxpayers who, even if they don’t exactly embrace his style, see that he is standing up against government greed.
- Tell us stories. Don’t just deal in numbers alone. We want to become emotionally involved. Stories personalize both the candidate and the issue. We are really busy. Having numbers thrown at us just means another complicated thing to understand and translate.
If there ever were a numbers guy in politics, it’s Bruce Poliquin, running for the 2nd District congressional seat. He’s a former state treasurer, and he’s brilliant on finance issues. But while he speaks of economic points he also talks about his life, losing his wife at a young age, raising his son, and the impact these things have had on his approach to politics. It’s moving, humanizing, and true.
- Inspire us. Shout about American exceptionalism from the rooftops. Tell us how you are going to make sure our best days are to come. There are a lot of scary things going on in the world. We want to know that you are going to keep our country strong and our families safe. This is the first job of government!
- Most importantly, remember we women are natural networkers. We connect with people, we build relationships (ever notice the wife always comes home from a cocktail party knowing more about the people she and her husband have just met?). We have a great deal of influence not only among our friends, but in our families (including kids coming of voting age).
In the 1950s and 60s, more women than men voted Republican. Since 1980, that’s reversed. It’s more important than ever for the right to take control of the conversation and turn things around.