Now, Republicans still need to do more to win over women voters, BUT they invested heavily in women this year–and the dividends it paid off were huge. Elise Stefanik is the youngest woman ever to be elected to Congress; Mia Love is the first Republican black women elected to Congress; and Joni Ernst and Shelley Moore Capito are the first female senators from Iowa and West Virginia, respectively.
Yet, on the state-level, Democrats admit that they’ve been “outclassed,” with the GOP netting 59 women in state legislatures (via NYT):
As Republicans took control of an unprecedented 69 of 99 statehouse chambers in the midterm elections, they did not rely solely on a bench of older white men. Key races hinged on the strategic recruitment of women and minorities, many of them first-time candidates who are now learning the ropes and joining the pool of prospects for higher office.
They include Jill Upson, the first black Republican woman elected to the West Virginia House; Victoria Seaman, the first Latina Republican elected to the Nevada Assembly; Beth Martinez Humenik, whose win gave Republicans a one-seat edge in the Colorado Senate; and Young Kim, a Korean-American woman who was elected to the California Assembly, helping to break the Democratic supermajority in the State Legislature.
In Pennsylvania, Harry Lewis Jr., a retired black educator, won in a new House district that was expected to be a Democratic stronghold; he printed his campaign materials in English and Spanish. Of the 12 Latinos who will serve in statewide offices across the nation in 2015, eight are Republican.
“This is not just rhetoric — we spent over $6 million to identify new women and new candidates of diversity and bring them in,” said Matt Walter, the executive director of the Republican State Leadership Committee. “Most of these chambers were flipped because there was a woman or a person of diverse ethnicity in a key targeted seat.”
The wins, by candidates carefully chosen to challenge the traditional notion of the Democratic base, bode well for Republicans in future elections. They had a net gain of 59 women in state legislatures; Democrats lost 63 women. Republicans added 10 Latinos; Democrats lost five. Republicans reported 17 newly elected blacks; a comparable figure for Democrats was not available. In 2008, only about 31 percent of women in state legislatures were Republicans; in 2015, that figure will rise by eight percentage points.
The rest of the piece focused on Sarah Maestas Barnes, 34, who had a Democratic, working-class upbringing. She was instrumental in clinching the Republican majority in the New Mexico House of Representatives for the first time in 60 years. Barnes said Democratic leaders avoided Republican ideas on the issues merely because they were from the GOP. This is what led her to switch parties as a result.
Yet, the Times also noted that many on the left feel that Democratic women lost because Democrats lost, not because Republicans are doing better with women voters. That’s not necessarily true; the GOP has found a way to reach women voters and avoid having Todd Akin-like candidates emerge to clog the spot, while also hurting the party’s image nationally.
Like Hispanics and Asians, women are a shiftable voting bloc. If anything, 2014 proved that abortion and contraception aren’t the first things women look for in a candidate. Some, like soon-to-be-ex-Sen. Mark Udall, really invested heavily in the reproductive angle of this narrative and came off as tone-deaf and–worst of all–creepy.
In fact, the things that seems to be the point source of the gender gap is the role of government (via WaPo):
It wasn’t clear even in 2012 that this rhetoric worked. On the one hand, we found that supporters of the birth control mandate were more likely to vote for Obama, even after accounting for other factors.
On the other hand, John Sides and Lynn Vavreck found no link between news coverage about contraception and abortion and women’s attitudes about either Obama or Mitt Romney during the 2012 campaign, and little evidence that attitudes about abortion were central to moving women voters to Obama.
Attitudes about the size and scope of government — not abortion — are what drive the gender gap. Women are more likely than men to believe that the federal government should provide assistance to the poor, in part because women are disproportionately likely to be recipients of such government aid.
Looking ahead to 2016, the better strategy for Democrats is to tie birth control access to broader issues of economic opportunity, pay equity, increases in the minimum wage, paid family leave, and other issues that tap into voters’ feelings about the role of government.
Yet, I disagree about the “war on women” effects in 2012; it seems to have galvanized many young, urban voters, especially women, who might have sat 2012 out if they didn’t think a Romney administration would unleash DEA agents to raid their local pharmacy.
On the other issues, like pay equity, family leave, and the minimum wage, Republicans can and should draft policies that address these issues; they’re winnable. To start, the Obama administration has completely destroyed the public’s confidence in government and its institutions.
Regardless, it seems for now that Republicans have outmaneuvered the tired “war on women” narratives of the past, and recruited top-notch female candidates that helped clinch the most state legislative seats since 1920.