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How Obama’s Tactics Repel Women Voters



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I was skeptical about Thursday’s AP poll showing that Romney and Obama were now getting equal support from women voters. The swing was both too huge and too sudden to be entirely believable. But there is little doubt that women voters as a whole are swinging toward the Republican and that at the very least he will sharply reduce the president’s earlier and expected lead among women voters. Some of this may represent female approval for Romney’s extravagantly calm and reasonable approach in the foreign-policy debate. But I have a suspicion that most women are not charmed by the “war on women” campaign that is meant to win them over — and that many women are repelled by it.

It is not, of course, aimed at all women. Karlyn Bowman, the AEI polling expert who is always coolly dispassionate in her analysis of opinion trends, tells me that it aimed at two groups of (largely unmarried) women voters: women with postgraduate degrees and younger women voters. Both groups lean heavily toward Obama. But the second group, like its male counterpart, is generally apathetic and therefore unlikely to turn out to vote unless it is fired up by issues of interest to it. Hence the Obama campaign’s concentration on the issues of subsidized contraception and abortion and President Obama’s personal salesmanship of these issues via hip and edgy outlets such as Rolling Stone magazine and Jon Stewart’s show.

The Lena Dunham ad is the reduction ad absurdum of these kinds of appeals. If Ms. Dunham really has cast an early vote and yet still compares the excitement of her first vote to losing her virginity, one can only encourage her to persevere: Sex really will get better. Even with Ms. Dunham’s exact sex-and-age demographic, therefore, this ad is likely to provoke more mockery than allegiance. In fact, that has already happened in a way that illustrates Jim Bennett’s recent insight that the new social media have changed the way that election campaigns work. A video parodying Ms. Dunham’s ad was put out yesterday and has already gone viral. It was No. 5 on one list of most-watched videos. However hip-and-edgy Obama’s campaign workers are, there will always be someone hipper and edgier out there in flyover America.

It is likely to play even worse with other women voters. The mothers of Ms. Dunham’s generation cannot be entirely happy with the idea that the government is offering their daughters cheap and easy sex in exchange for their votes. (Their fathers will be no less outraged even under a façade of tolerant liberality. But, as the president would doubtless point out, their emotions don’t count because they aren’t women.) But it will probably repel even the post-graduate women voters who are living the single life (Obama’s other main demographic target) by reminding them of the easy promises that explain why they harbor doubts about men in general.

One of the most striking oddities of the Obama campaign’s appeal to women, indeed, is how it not only objectifies them but even reduces them to their “lady parts.” The campaign might even be called “The Vagina Dialogues” since it talks to women as if they were walking, talking, and voting vaginas with no other value or interests. This view of women is exactly the same as the view held (and once, but no longer, expressed) by the most brutalized, vulgar, and exploitative male chauvinists. Many women in all demographic groups, but especially postgraduate women, are likely to find this approach demeaning and repellent even when they support the actual policies it promotes.

And they don’t always support those policies. Abortion is an especially dubious issue for Obama with women. Ramesh listed the reasons some weeks ago (I’m quoting him from memory): At least as many women are pro-life as pro-choice; those who are single-issue abortion voters tend to be pro-life rather than pro-choice; and most women, like most men, simply don’t like to confront this issue and tend to react unfavorably to those who force them to do so. Until recently the GOP suffered from this distaste; in this campaign, it is the Democrats who are campaigning almost obsessively on it. To Ramesh’s three points I would add a fourth: The tone of Democrat arguments on abortion has undergone a real change from cautious defense to something like advocacy. The Obama campaign (as well as the Democratic party platform) has moved from arguing that abortion should be “safe, legal, and rare” to defending it as a praiseworthy strategy for reproductive health. But an unborn child is not a disease, as everyone who has seen ultrasound knows. Many women voters who are not pro-life will nonetheless find this level of enthusiasm for abortion simply unseemly.

So the appeal to women voters crafted by the Obama campaign may be one of the reasons that they are deserting it. It would be bad news for all of us, not only the unborn, if such a brutal and selfish appeal were to succeed.  



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