How will Republicans speak to women?

In anticipation of the Republican debate tonight, I’m interested in how the candidates will speak to women.

The fact is Democrats have a woman problem. In 2008, Barack Obama won the majority of the female vote. Three years later, women’s support for the president has dropped dramatically.

According to a new Gallup poll, women’s support for Obama dropped 11 points over the summer. And today only 41 percent of women “approve” of how the president is handling his job.

But this number has been dropping steadily over the past few years. In the winter of 2009, Gallup found 66 percent of women approved of the president’s performance. A year later, that number had fallen to 56 percent.

This dramatic drop in support may confuse advisers in the White House, who will point to a host of different “women’s” policies the president has supported during his term. For instance, Obama signed the Lilly Ledbetter Act, aimed at improving equality in the workplace; recommended increasing spending on a series of “women’s” issues like protection against domestic violence; and even made a point to give female military personnel serving overseas access to the morning-after pill.

But despite what traditional feminist groups may have the White House believe, this is not a surefire path to women’s hearts — or votes, for that matter. In fact, Obama’s female woes may be a function of all this (outdated) attention to identity politics.

Political researchers have argued for years over what drives women to the polls. Some claim “hard issues” like terrorism and moral values are the secret to the woman’s vote, while others suggest “soft issues,” like education and healthcare, are more important. While there is no consensus on the driving issue, it’s clear women are not a monolithic voting bloc. Still, Democrats — and this White House — continue to treat them as such, appealing to them through conventional “women’s” policies.

But a funny thing has happened since the 1960s. Women’s role in society has changed dramatically. Today women are increasingly out-achieving, out-earning, out-spending and out-influencing men. And as women have transformed their place in society, they have grown increasingly skeptical of government — more so even than men. (According to a survey of female voters in Massachusetts commissioned by the Independent Women's Voice last year, "77 percent of women claim government spends money in a most inefficient way.")

Nevertheless, President Obama and Democrats in Congress continue to see gender politics — and issues like reproductive rights and nanny-state policies — as the key to the woman's vote.

As Republican candidates look toward the 2012 election, they ought to reach out to female voters on principles of limited government, individual rights, constitutional freedom and a robust economy. The fact is the GOP has an opportunity not only to reverse a failing economy, but also the nonsense of gender politics.


Sabrina L. Schaeffer is managing partner of Evolving Strategies and a senior fellow with the Independent Women’s Forum.