Politics & Policy

Losing the War for Women

(Andres Rodriguez/Dreamstime)
Women today are not reliably liberal on social issues.

It was a deft trick by the Left’s culture warriors over the last two election cycles: Persuade rich Republicans donors that social issues were the GOP’s core problem, especially with women.

Take high-end investor Mark Cuban’s word for it: “If I was going to give guidance to the Republican Party, . . . I’d say, ‘Stay completely out of social issues,’” Cuban said on CNBC’s Squawk Box.

Elections are where political wisdom can be tested and, if you are paying attention, falsified. And if you pay close attention, this is the election cycle that is going to definitively falsify the idea that social issues are what hurts Republicans and elects Democrats.

The AP/GFK poll released last week shows a strong movement of women toward the GOP. Asked whether they favor a Democratic- or Republican-controlled Congress, female likely voters have moved in one month from favoring Democrats 47 percent to 40 percent to preferring Republicans 44 percent to 42 percent.

Take note: Democrats are massively shedding support by women, just as they have poured massive amounts of messaging on contraception and abortion to the front and center of their campaigns.

USA Today reported that “Democrats in this trio of states [Colorado, New Hampshire, Iowa] have focused heavily on abortion rights, contraception access and other female-targeted wedge issues.” It’s not working.

In 2008, retiring Senator Tom Harkin (D., Iowa) won women voters by 29 percentage points (and men by 18). But this year, Iowa’s Democratic representative Bruce Braley has only an 8-point advantage among women (losing men by 17 points), as Republican Joni Ernst widens her lead in the latest Quinnipiac poll.

In 2010 Colorado Democrat Michael Bennet won the open Senate seat over Republican Ken Buck by appealing to women by 17 percentage points, according to exit polls. This year, Colorado’s senior senator, Democrat Mark Udall — after pummeling the state with so many pro-abortion, pro-contraceptive ads he has earned the nickname Senator Uterus — leads Republican Cory Gardner by just 9 points with women, while losing men by 19 points, according to a Quinnipiac poll last week.

In Kansas, Republican senator Pat Roberts is pinning the pro-abortion, pro-gay-marriage label on his independent opponent, Greg Orman, who is cowering behind an ineffective “truce” strategy. Business Stream reports a typical Orman profile of courage on the issue: “Orman ran up to a woman sitting on the sidelines of the parade who had called out his name. She wanted to know his position on abortion. She gave him a firm handshake as he tried to back away without a response, repeating that she wanted to ask him a question. He told her his position was on his website, where he notes that it’s ‘time for the government to move past this issue.’”

Roberts’s resurgence among Republican voters dates from the public debate where, among other issues, he dubbed Orman’s weaselly call to move past the rights of the unborn child “unconscionable.”

Note that in Iowa, Democrat Braley has abruptly claimed to oppose late-term abortion, although in 2013 Braley voted against a bill that would have banned abortions after 20 weeks (almost five months), with exceptions for rape, incest, and the physical health of the mother. He cosponsored a 2013 bill that would strike down almost all abortion restrictions.

Mark Cuban and similar rich guys, please take note: In this key purple state, there is only one candidate who thinks he needs to lie about his record to get elected, and it’s not the pro-life Republican.

What about Republicans running in bluish states who have gotten rid of the social issues?

Consider how well that brilliant plan is working for Monica Wehby, Senate candidate in Oregon. This pro-choice, pro-gay-marriage, single, working professional mom is down 19 points in the latest Oregonian poll. Her Democratic opponent, Senator Jeff Merkley, beat a pro-life, pro-traditional-marriage incumbent Republican senator, Gordon Smith, by just 3 points in the Obama wave in 2008.

The one Democrat for whom the war-on-women rhetoric is still working is Senator Kay Hagan, and her success at keeping the race close in North Carolina is the exception that proves what should become a new rule: The gender gap is not driven by abortion (about which men and women poll very similarly). Hagan has stayed competitive by focusing on pocketbook issues like pay equity, not abortion.

What might we learn if the final poll at the election resembles the polls this week?

The truce strategy is a failure for any party that tries it; to mumble, deflect, and refuse to speak about basic moral issues just makes you look shifty.

To put abortion at the centerpiece of your campaign, as Senator Udall has done in an unprecedented way, also backfires.

The key to most women’s votes is our pocketbooks. The gender gap grows when Republicans get out of touch with voters’ core economic concerns, not because values issues are dragging the party down.

— Maggie Gallagher is a senior fellow at the American Principles Project. She blogs at MaggieGallagher.com.

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