New York Times (Opinion)
By Emma Roller
March 29, 2016
All campaigns want to know the way to the heart of the crucial female voter.
Over the years, they have sliced and diced demographics to try to get there. They’ve tried to reach soccer moms, hockey moms, security moms, married women, unmarried women, white women, black women, Latinas, suburban women and especially women who live in swing states.
Women — a group that makes up 52 percent of the voting-age population — are catered to like a niche group. Why don’t men, specifically white men, get this treatment? Where are the candidates seeking out “security dads” or the key “single men” voters?
The answer is simple: In electoral politics, white men are the air we breathe and the water we swim in.
“They’re the yardstick against which other groups measure their own electoral fortunes and influence,” said Jennifer Lawless, a political science professor at American University. “They’re the most privileged group out there, so the extent to which you match up to that group or you’re able to have the amount of access that that group has is how you define your own political power.”
This is an especially weird year for dissecting gender politics. On the one hand, we have Hillary Clinton, who, unlike any other presidential candidate, has the added advantage in appealing to women of actually being a woman. On the other hand, there is Donald J. Trump, whose predominantly white, male supporters delight in him saying “politically incorrect” things, even when that means implying that his opponent’s wife is unattractive.
Mr. Trump is also running a campaign that answers the question, What if male voters were treated like female voters? What if they were reduced to a single issue, condescended to, and counted on to show up anyway?
There are plenty of examples of how campaigns have done just that to female voters for years.
In 2014, the College Republican National Committee released a series of ads aimed at young women, based on the TLC program “Say Yes to the Dress,” with Republican candidates for governor standing in for garish taffeta creations. In one of the ads, a young woman models a strapless wedding gown called “The Rick Scott,” to her female friends’ delight. Her mother wants her to wear the frumpy “Charlie Crist” dress.
In his re-election campaign that same year, Senator Mark Udall, Democrat of Colorado, ran ads contrasting his record on supporting access to abortion and birth control with that of his challenger, Cory Gardner. At one point in the campaign, ads about abortion and birth control made up more than 50 percent of the television spots Mr. Udall had on the air, earning him the nickname “Mark Uterus.” In the end, Mr. Udall won the female vote by an eight-point margin, but still lost to Mr. Gardner.
To Elizabeth Wilner, a senior vice president at Kantar Media, which tracks political advertising, that recent example shows how self-defeating chasing votes by gender can be.
“It was a case study in how you can go too far in one direction treating women not necessarily as a monolithic voting bloc, but as a single-issue voting group,” she said. “They’re related, but they’re not quite the same.”
The 2012 presidential election had the largest gender gap since at least 1952, when Gallup started measuring that figure. While Mitt Romney won male voters by a margin of eight points, President Obama won female voters by a margin of 12 points.
Still, though voting seems to vary greatly by gender, no one is officially or openly going after “men’s issues” or male voters. I asked Ms. Wilner if she had ever seen any ads that she thought clearly went after male voters. She laughed, then paused for six seconds. “No,” she said.
“I guess because of the history of having issues that were viewed as being specific to women, it’s more noticeable when an ad is catering to women than that you look at an ad and think, Oh, that ad is obviously catering to men,” she said. “A lot of Republican primary ads are catering to men because they focus on the very muscular issues. They focus on national security. They focus on immigration and closing the border. But women do care about security as well.”
Ms. Wilner’s take on the Republican primary ads this year: “They’re simply not at all trying to appeal to women.”
Kellyanne Conway, a veteran pollster who works for a “super PAC” that supports Senator Ted Cruz’s campaign, argued that abortion-rights groups are responsible for the one-dimensional narrative about female voters.
“Women as a monolith is actually a subtle form of misogyny, and it’s been pushed by frankly, I hate to say it, but it’s been pushed by a lot of professional females in the industry,” Ms. Conway said. “When you’re a hammer the whole world looks like a nail.”
Professor Lawless said that people will keep using the phrase “women’s rights” as long as there are policies that disproportionately burden women.
“As long as women are still primarily responsible for child care and household responsibilities, as long as they’re still making 78 cents on the dollar, there are differences in how policies affect women and men,” she said. “I think that that’s part of the reason that we see this divide.”
With Mr. Trump, we are getting the opposite of all of these years of appeals to “women’s rights,” for better or worse: He is specifically saying what many women find objectionable, and often doing so enough that it almost seems intentional.
The anti-Trump group Our Principles PAC recently released an ad showing women repeating offensive things Mr. Trump has said about women.
A recent NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll found that 70 percent of women hold a negative view of Mr. Trump, with 47 percent of Republican female primary voters saying they could not imagine themselves supporting him for president.
“If we end up with a Trump-Clinton general election, we will have a gender gap the size of the Grand Canyon,” said Whit Ayres, a Republican pollster. “Many of the things that Donald Trump has said about women make him toxic to many female voters across the country. On the other hand, some of the grievances he has articulated resonate particularly well with non-college male voters in many parts of the country as well.”
The gender gap does cut both ways, even if we tend to focus on women’s influence on the electorate (in part because women are more likely than men to vote). Hillary Clinton is struggling to gain the support of white male voters, while Mr. Trump has put non-college-educated white men, a group of people hit hard by the 2008 economic meltdown, at the rhetorical center of every speech and interview he gives.
“Democrats have just as much of a problem among white men as Republicans do among women,” Mr. Ayres said.
But not all demographics are created equal, according to Ms. Conway.
“Hillary Clinton could get 35 percent of the white male vote and still win,” she said. “Donald Trump can’t get 40 percent of the female vote and still win.”
The United States is projected to look quite different, demographically, 30 or 50 years from now. That means white men may be a smaller segment of the voting public, and we’ll need a new name for this niche that future political campaigns will have to sell their message to with their own clumsy ad campaigns. Fortunately, a fitting nickname is already available: the Trump voter.
For more information, go to: www.beverlyhillsimmigrationlaw.com