Politics & Policy

Poll Finds Women Receptive to GOP’s Ideas, but Party’s Messaging Needs Work

At the polls in Goffstown, N.H., 2012. (T.J. Kirkpatrick/Getty)

Republican candidates need to do a better job communicating their message to women, according to a new poll released today.

The poll, conducted on behalf of GOPAC Education Fund and American Freedom Builders, asked registered women voters in Ohio what issues were most important to them, and tested how strongly they reacted to different ways of communicating on those issues.

The survey results, provided first to National Review, contain good and bad news for the GOP. The poll finds that Ohio women of all political stripes agree with a number of the policy positions Republican presidential hopefuls are running on, but indicates that the candidates are not always effectively communicating those positions.

“Conservatives really should look at this poll and say for the most part, the majority of women agree with our positions on the issues,” American Freedom Builders President John McClelland tells NR. But, he says, the survey also “tells us that we’re not doing a good job of communicating.”

Women of all age groups and political perspectives were asked what would help them most in their lives, and lower taxes, more affordable health care and better public schools were the top three responses.

As to how they communicate their positions on these issues to voters, however, the poll found that many Republican candidates are doing it wrong. For instance, Republican presidential candidates are fond of talking about helping “job creators.” When Ohio women were asked how they felt about the message: “We should support job creators, not punish them with higher taxes and more regulation,” 46 percent said they strongly agreed and 35 percent said they somewhat agreed. The phrasing fell particularly flat with women under 30, only 28 percent of whom said they strongly agreed with that message.

But when women heard the message “We should make it simpler and easier for Americans to start up small businesses or work for themselves from home,” 64 percent said they strongly agreed, and 31 percent said they somewhat agreed.

Republicans do have a path to increasing their share of the vote among women, not by changing their ideas but by refining their messaging.

McClelland argues that these two messages convey “the same idea,” and yet respondents reacted much more favorably to one than to the other. The phrase “job creators” seems to conjure up images of large corporations when, in fact, Republicans often talk about small businesses as well.

On security issues — which have been at the forefront of voters’ minds in light of ISIS’s beheadings of Americans, the ongoing debate on immigration, and the recent cyberattacks on the federal government — women also respond differently to different messages. More than 70 percent of Ohio women surveyed said they strongly agreed with messages that focused on beefing up cybersecurity, securing the border, and de-funding so-called sanctuary cities. A message that instead focused on “boots on the ground” in the Middle East to combat ISIS, on the other hand, was strongly supported by just 38 percent of respondents.

The survey noted marked differences in the priorities of older and younger female voters — those over 65 care more about healthcare and border security than other issues. Those under 30 say they would be helped more by more affordable healthcare and lowering the cost of college.

The conclusion of the survey was that Republicans do have a path to increasing their share of the vote among women, not by changing their ideas but by refining their messaging.

“The best news coming out of this survey research is there is a clear winning agenda that conservatives can promote that will earn us a greater percentage of female voters,” GOPAC Chairman David Avella tells NR. “That message being centered on giving people more control of their careers, providing greater security, and helping to improve essential government services.”

The groups chose to focus on Ohio because it is a crucial swing state in presidential cycles. A Republican has never won the White House without locking up Ohio, and Democrats have not pulled off such a feat since 1960. Republican presidential hopefuls will gather there on Thursday for the first GOP primary debate.

Women will comprise over 50 percent of the electorate in 2016, making them a crucial voting block for both parties. Republicans have made an effort over the past three years to expand the party base and broaden their appeal to women and minority voters.

#related#The poll comes on the heels of a comment by Jeb Bush Tuesday evening that too much federal money was spent on “women’s health issues.” The comment, which Bush quickly walked back, is the type of remark Democrats have used in the past to paint Republicans as anti-woman.

According to Avella, the poll was intended to prevent such missteps in the future by providing GOP presidential contenders with a way to target their messages to female voters. “Our hope is Republican candidates will use this to focus their message on the priorities that women voters say will help cast their vote,” he says.

Kristen Soltis Anderson of Echelon Insights conducted the survey. From July 27 through July 28, live interviewers polled 500 registered women voters in Ohio. At least 30 percent of the interviews were conducted with mobile phone users. Thirty percent of those surveyed were Republicans, 36 percent were Democrats, 31 percent were independent or something else, and four percent were unsure. The margin of error is plus or minus 4.4 percentage points at a 95 percent confidence level.

— Alexis Levinson is a senior political reporter for National Review.

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