Dear Prospective Conservative Republican Candidates:
Today's column offers strategic tips that can't possibly be worse than the ones "political consultants" charge you big bucks for. Even better, these are free.
Everything a conservative needs to win state and national elections lies in the exit poll numbers. I first noticed these strategic gems following Mitt Romney's 2012 defeat. The media echo chamber was still in high gear, revving up the public to believe that "white men" were Romney's "only" constituency -- and you know how awful "white men" are, and did you ever notice how Mitt Romney is both white and a man ... well, no wonder he lost.
Then I realized the exit polls didn't tell the same story the media were telling. (Shocking, I know.) According to these numbers, it wasn't really "white men" and Romney against the world. Romney had other constituencies -- underexploited constituencies. This week in Virginia, the same is true according to exit poll data, even as the media spin another story.
Once again, we are hearing about the so-called GOP gender gap, the so-called GOP war on women. Yes, it's true, as usual, that a majority of men voted for the losing Republican candidate, Ken Cuccinelli, a white man, while a majority of women voted for the winning Democratic candidate, Terry McAuliffe, another white man.
However, just as a majority of white women voted Republican in 2012, a majority of white women voted Republican in Virginia this week. In 2012, white women voted for Romney over Obama, 56 percent to 42 percent. In Virginia, white women voted for Cuccinelli over McAuliffe, 54 percent to 38 percent. This voting pattern turns the media's favorite anti-conservative smack-paddle, the "gender gap," into a racial gap. Black women, for example, voted for Barack Obama in 2012, 96 percent to 3 percent. In Virginia this week, black women voted for Terry McAuliffe, 91 percent to 7 percent.
What does this tell us? For one thing, that conservative candidates shouldn't pay consultants to coach them to sound more like Democrats on so-called "women's issues" because (1) it is unprincipled, (2) it never works, and (3) it never works because we are looking at an array of issues besides "gender." There's a fourth reason: The last thing conservatives should base political strategy on is Democratic and media spin.
Let's take another piece of exit polling data: middle-income voters. Republicans, while endlessly caricatured as "the party of the rich," reliably win majorities of middle-income voters. In 2012, Romney won voters with a family income between $50,000 and $99,000, 52 percent to 46 percent. Cuccinelli won this same income group in Virginia, 51 percent to 43 percent.
Another category Republicans win every time is married Americans. In 2012, Mitt Romney won 56 percent of the married vote to Barack Obama's 42 percent. (Obama won unmarried voters, 62 percent to 35 percent.) Romney won married men, 60 percent to 38 percent, and he won married women, 53 percent to 46 percent. In Virginia, married voters overall favored Cuccinelli, 50 percent to 43 percent. (McAuliffe won unmarried voters, 62 percent to 29 percent.) Cuccinelli won married men 50 percent to 44 percent, and married women 52 percent to 42 percent.
In other words, middle-income and married Americans are Republican strongholds. Eureka! Here is where Republicans can find winning margins by turning out more of these traditional voters -- as many as humanly possible. It's time to realize that the focused-on, focused-grouped "gender" issues are a giant bait-and-switch that keep Republicans from winning.
One of the hallmarks of the Obama re-election campaign was its relentless pursuit of every last voter especially among constituencies Obama already had in his column. Thus, the president worked for and won an even higher percentage of black women, for example, in 2012 than he did in 2008. Conservative Republicans should take a page from this winning strategy. Instead of following their predecessors off the phony "gender gap" cliff, they, too, should go back to friendly Republican wells to draw more of the voters who already support them but fail to feel sufficient urgency to go to the polls.
And that raises another point. While these potential new Republican Red voters support policies that strengthen marriage and family as the social and economic bulwarks of society, candidates who "stay positive" alone -- another pricey piece of "expert" advice -- aren't making them vote in droves. Conservatives must learn to override Democratic and media efforts to suppress these crucial votes.
How? They call us "narrow-minded" (liberal for God-fearing), "mean-spirited" (the liberal term for fiscally responsible), "racist" (liberal for love of country) and other names. This suppresses the Republican vote. Yes, continue to offer the positive policies that support marriage and the middle-income families. But make sure these same potential voters understand that without their votes, without their urging friends to vote, marriage, the American way, not to mention God, fiscal responsibility and country, are absolutely doomed. "Scare" tactics? No, it's called reality. It's not your fault reality is scary.
In sum, overriding mass voter suppression among married, middle-income Americans is your political challenge -- and reward.
Only 37 percent of Virginia's eligible voters made their will known this week. Just think if all of the middle-income and married voters among the 63 percent who stayed home actually voted.
Conservative victory in the bag.
(Diana West's new book is "American Betrayal: The Secret Assault on Our Nation's Character" from St. Martin's Press. She blogs at dianawest.net, and she can be contacted via firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @diana_west_.)