According to some experts, the women’s vote will determine the upcoming presidential election. Somewhere around 40 percent of the vote is committed to Kerry and won’t change. Around 40 percent is solidly committed to Bush. That leaves about 20 percent undecided.
Both parties are going after those undecided votes, but they have different interpretations about who those voters are and how they feel about the issues.
Feminist groups released data indicating that they believe 65 percent of those undecided voters are women. Republican analysts agree. Where the two parties differ is in their assessment of the issues that motivate those undecided women. Clearly, the Democrats also think that all women are committed to feminist issues. Thus, at the recent Democratic convention, Teresa Heinz Kerry spoke longingly of the day when women would be valued as smart and well-informed instead of being called “opinionated.” Many of the Democratic delegates in Boston responded with tears streaming down their faces as they roared their approval.
Planned Parenthood and Ms. magazine think that abortion is the key issue for women and that the major swing vote is among single women. They are joining forces in an initiative to get out the vote among single women who lean toward John Kerry, the Democratic candidate and an abortion proponent. They plan to raise $25 million in order to contact — through telephone, personal visits or direct mail — each targeted single woman 12 times between now and Election Day. They believe that single women will go to the polls because they have a “clear choice” between candidates on the abortion issue.
There are some hard cold facts driving the feminist initiative for single women — only 52 percent of single women voted in the 2000 election, compared to 68 percent of married women. Republicans have long targeted the married women’s vote and that demographic is a natural constituency for Republican themes of family and traditional values.
That single bit of information — that more married women than single women typically vote in presidential elections — explains why the Democratic convention toned down the rhetoric: They want to win over those married women who are more interested in their children’s future than in abortion. Pro-abortion comments were cloaked in the soft language of choice, values, and how much Democrats work for children and value children.
Perhaps the most discordant Democratic theme that focused on women voters was “family values” — generally thought of as a distinctively and often-criticized Republican ideal. Yet, Kerry latched onto the concept and re-framed it to fit the Democratic platform and appeal to women — his concept of “family” encompassed single mothers, blended families, divorced parents, etc. Defending the party against the Republicans, Kerry opposed what he called “narrow appeals” and declared that such appeals should never masquerade “as values.”
The Democrats, in an unusual move, are targeting evangelical Christians, who are usually Republican and are not normally a Democratic constituency. However, more and more evangelicals are leaning leftward on social issues and do not want to be identified with the “religious right.” At their convention, the Democrats tried to convey the impression that the predominately Republican “religious right” consists of extremists, whereas the Democrats are moderate and temperate, but just as faithful. Several speakers went out of their way to talk about faith and to declare that the Republicans do not have a corner on it. To try to strike a difference between the two parties on the matter of faith, Kerry stressed that he would be a “uniter” rather than a “divider.”
The Democratic convention featured an unprecedented number of women speakers and emphasized the Party’s dedication to equal representation and “women’s issues.” Even on issues like the war and terrorism, the Democrats used softer rhetoric. When delivering Democratic “red meat,” speakers generally framed their hard-line politics with statements that disclaimed the “low road” in campaigning. As soon as the conciliatory words were out of their mouths, however, the speakers continued to talk “politics as usual.” What’s a little inconsistency and flip-flopping? Where’s the dishonor in saying what people want to hear in a political campaign? As Michael Korda once said, “There is no such thing as humiliation if you want to win.”
Janice Crouse, spokesperson for Concerned Women for America Legislative Action Committee, attended and wrote a daily commentary on the Democratic National Convention in Boston. She will do the same at the Republican National Convention at the end of this month in New York City.