- - Monday, September 15, 2014

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Two prominent GOP groups recently issued a report, based on eight focus groups and a poll of 800 registered female voters, on the GOP’s “women” problem. As usual, media accounts zeroed in like a laser on the question of abortion, and here, despite many strong points, the report suggests a variant of the so-called truce strategy. “Deal honestly with any disagreement,” the report recommends, “then move to other issues.”

In our critique of similar thinking by the Republican National Committee in its autopsy, “Building a Winning GOP Coalition,” we argued that this analysis of the abortion issue gets the political truth exactly backward: The more we run away from, or mute our voice on, the life issue, the less voters trust the GOP, the more Democrats are allowed to define the GOP brand on the life issue as “anti-woman,” and the fewer new voters we attract, especially among Hispanics and other new Americans.

As hard as it is to see from Washington, women’s problems with the GOP are not being driven by abortion. The May 2013 Gallup survey we cited in our report showed that when women were asked whether they favored making all or most abortions legal or illegal, the GOP’s overall position was preferred, 57 percent to 40 percent.

When we look at how women respond to the actual policy proposals that GOP candidates are making and defending on the campaign trail, such as Sen. Lindsey Graham’s proposal to limit abortions at 20 weeks, or after five months of pregnancy, based on the child’s ability to feel pain, women favor the GOP’s position by a margin of 2 to 1 or more.

In fact, women favor a 20-week, five-month limit by even larger margins than men do, as The Washington Post’s Aaron Blake acknowledged in an article titled, “Guess Who Likes the GOP’s 20-Week Ban? Women.” Mr. Blake cites a Quinnipiac poll showing that 60 percent of women support the proposal, 10 points higher than men. Only 25 percent of women said they’d instead prefer a 24-week limit, giving the 20-week, five-month limit an incredible 35-point edge among women.

GOP candidates have a real opportunity to make the Democrats pay a political price for their increasing abortion extremism, positions that turn off women even more deeply than they do men.

So if it is not abortion, what is the GOP’s real problem with women?

A Crossroads GPS/American Action report takes steps to acknowledge what should be obvious — economic issues, not social issues — are driving women’s doubts about the GOP. When asked during the 2012 American National Election Survey whether the economy would be better if a Democrat or a Republican won, women picked Democrats 49 percent to 31 percent. Similar uncertainties about what electing Republicans would mean for their pocketbooks also drove the youth gap (51 percent to 27 percent) and the Hispanic vote (57 percent to 23 percent).

There are signs both Democrats and Republicans are now slowly beginning to understand that.

A Wall Street Journal-NBC poll in August found that women would prefer this November’s elections to produce a Democrat-controlled Congress, by 51 percent to 37 percent margin, while men preferred a Republican-controlled Congress 52 percent to 35 percent.

“This isn’t all about [abortion] and social issues,” said Jared Bernstein, a former adviser to Vice President Joe Biden and now a senior fellow at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, in a Wall Street Journal article on the poll.

Katie Packer Gage, a Republican strategist, told The Wall Street Journal in regard to economic issues, “Republicans are trying to play more offense on these issues . The issue is not that we don’t think people should have more pay. There is just a different approach.”

The problem for the GOP is twofold. First, our candidates don’t speak like they understand what voters are experiencing, who are no longer primarily driven by deep fears that they will lose the jobs that they have, but rather are worried by a pervasive decline in their standard of living driven by the double punch of wage stagnation and rising cost of living. Second, the GOP’s solution to the problem is for Republican candidates to refrain from speaking out on these issues, which in turn makes the candidates’ stance unclear to average voters.

One candidate who understands this need is our former colleague, Jeff Bell, whose underfunded guerrilla campaign in New Jersey on the gold standard has propelled him to within single digits of the supposedly unbeatable Democratic incumbent Sen. Cory Booker. “Well, sure, the price of an iPad may fall by half,” Mr. Bell told The Weekly Standard. “But people know their wages are not keeping up with the prices they pay regularly. The price of food, energy, medical care — are all going up while wages stay flat. You tell people inflation is not a problem, they’ll laugh in your face.”

The Crossroads GPS-American Action report will do Republicans a great favor if it helps party leaders recognize how their economic messaging is indeed “stuck in the past.” On the abortion issue, however, it is time to stop being defensive and to begin making the pro-abortion extremist Democrats pay for being so out of touch with women’s views and values.

Frank Cannon is president of American Principles in Action, where Maggie Gallagher is a senior fellow.

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