John Feehery: Speaking Engagements


Gender Gaps Abound

Posted on June 20, 2013

I was thinking about the gender gap yesterday as I went on television yesterday to talk about a House bill to ban abortion after 22 weeks.

I am pro-life in my politics and have been for quite a while.  That being said, this is probably not the time for Republicans to bring up a bill to ban abortion, not with the Senate being controlled by the Democrats, not with the President being Barack Obama.   The bill is going nowhere, so what's the point?

And not after a conservative Republican congressman made yet another comment about rape and abortion.

As I said on MSNBC, the Republicans should have a simple message when it comes to rape:  They are against it.

Democratic Congresswoman Louise Slaughter couldn’t resist temptation and basically called the GOP a pro-rape party the other day.  This might have caused a stir in the media, except for the fact that it really is not that far from what the Democrats were accusing Mitt Romney of in the last election.  What's the difference between a mythical “war on women” and being the “pro-rape” party?  Not much, if you think about it.

There has been and continues to be a political gender gap, not to be confused with the wage gender gap.

Politically-speaking, women vote for Democrats by about 10 to 20 points more than they do for Republicans.   Black women vote almost unanimously for Democrats.  Single women vote heavy for the Democrats.  Married white women skew towards the Republicans.  Single mothers vote for the Democrats.

It is not easy to suddenly make inroads with the female gender gap for the GOP, because on the plus side, they have a huge male gender gap voting for them.  While black men vote mostly for the Democrats, most white men for the Republicans.

And the fact is, if the Republicans try to shift their messaging to somehow appeal to African American or single women, they will probably get primaried for being Republicans In Name Only.

When I worked for Speaker Hastert, we came up with a pretty simple theme based on security.  We wanted to secure the future, by improving education, by making retirement more secure, by improving national security, and by putting an emphasis on economic growth.

The Bush campaign echoed some of our themes and focused on education and Medicare reform on the domestic front, tax cuts to spark the economy (with an emphasis on pro-family tax breaks) and by bolstering national defense (which in the days before 9/11/01 seemed kind of like a waste of space).

The political gender gap never really went away, but by 2004, Bush did pretty well with the so-called “security” moms.  But as the war continued on, much of that pro-women bounce faded.

In 2008, the John McCain maverick theme seemed antiquated, and a last-minute desperation move to appeal to female voters by putting Sarah Palin on the ticket backfired.

Palin has a particular female constituency.  They are pro-gun, anti-abortion, anti-public schools, pro-home schools, big-time Christian, avid Fox watching, lipstick wearing hockey moms from rural America, and most likely from the middle of the middle class.   Among that group, she is a rock star.  Unfortunately, among just about every other group of female voters (according to the polls) she is a disaster.

That’s a hard place to build up a majority.

By 2012, the Democrats were not taking anything for granted, and the President pounded away at social issues, because they knew he had been a disaster from an economic standpoint.    I was dumbfounded as the Obama campaign blasted Mitt Romney (who probably had the most moderate record on abortion of any Republican candidate in 20 years), for being an existential threat to abortion rights.

Republicans have not made it any easier on themselves by continually referring to rape at inopportune moments, and those comments have been replayed endlessly on MSNBC.

Nor does it make it any easier to keep the focus on non-social issues when State Legislatures across the country pass more and more legislation focused on abortion.   In this ever-connected world we live in, every little thing that happens around the country makes its way on cable, especially when it can be manipulated to embarrass the GOP.

In the meantime, things are happening in the country that are conspiring against the Republicans demographically.  According to the U.S. Census Bureau “single motherhood is on the rise: It found that of 4.1 million women who’d given birth in 2011, 36 per cent were unmarried at the time of the survey, an increase from 31 per cent in 2005. And among mothers aged 20 to 24, the percentage was 62 per cent, or six in 10 mothers.”

Here’s another tidbit:  a report came out last week that showed for the first time in American history, more white people died last year in America than were born.  For a party that has been built to be attractive to white married women, the fact that they are fewer women getting married (of any race), and demographically, fewer white people every year hopefully troubles GOP leaders.   A question remains if it concerns the rank and file of the Grand Old Party at all.  If not, it should.

The President made a big deal about the ongoing wage gap between men and women in the private market place.  Men theoretically get paid more than women for the ostensibly the same work, although my guess is that more goes into this calculus than simple bigotry.   And I bet you that with the changing demographics in educational attainment, this gender gap will be largely erased in 10 years.

And in my experience, women don’t necessarily want to make more money than men.  They want to be fairly compensated and they want more flexibility to do what they want to do.   Having the government mandate flexibility seems to be ridiculous to me, but there are ways to look at current laws, and mandate that the laws accept the reality we all currently live in.

Eric Cantor has tried to move legislation to give females (and males) more flexibility on the job, free from the constraints of rigid Labor Department mandates.  I think that makes sense, and I think it can be an effective way to deal with the ongoing political gender gap.

Republicans have to be more sophisticated in how it modifies its message so that it can attract more females.  Talking about rape and abortion in the same sentence is not a more sophisticated messaging model.