As the countdown to the election begins in earnest, look for the public’s attention to be directed towards women. This week is the case in point:
-On Friday, the Obama campaign scrambled to regain their lead amongst women voters by highlighting Mitt Romney’s staunch pro-life position. The Obama campaign released a video entitled “Decision”, asking women to discover “the real Mitt Romney.”
-MoveOn released “VOTE” featuring Scarlett Johansson, Eva Longoria, and Kerry Washington.
In the midst of this wave of videos on women’s reproductive rights, the Agenda Project Action Fund released “My Country, My Choice”, a 1-minute video featuring 28 naked women asking: “If you don’t trust me with my country, why should I trust you with my body?”
In every Presidential election since 1964, the number of female voters has exceeded the number of male voters. In 2008, 10 million more women than men voted. In 7 of the last 9 Presidential elections, the winning candidate received a majority of the female vote. The only exception was George W. Bush (twice), who ended up being the least popular President in modern history.
However, throughout the first Presidential debate on domestic policy, both Barack Obama and Mitt Romney completely ignored women. The candidates’ failure to talk about women’s health policy was not because the two candidates agreed on women’s health policy. Barack Obama supports Roe v. Wade, Mitt Romney does not. Barack Obama supports employer provided birth control for women enrolled in workplace healthcare plans, Mitt Romney does not. Barack Obama supports funding for Planned Parenthood (the largest US provider of reproductive health services), Mitt Romney does not. As Cecile Richards, the President of Planned Parenthood said: “I’ve never seen a presidential election where women’s access to birth control is practically on the ballot.”
And it was precisely Barack Obama’s failure to assert the stark differences between himself and Mitt Romney on women’s issues that precipitated his fall in the polls. Almost overnight Obama saw his 18% among women disappear. That Mitt Romney closed the polling gap between himself and President Obama was mentioned ad nauseam; what was elided from the media’s coverage of the first Presidential debate was that this change was due mostly to women’s wavering support of the President.
The closing of the voting gender gap was not lost on the campaigns themselves, however. After this monumental shift in the polls, Mitt Romney sought to placate his newfound female supporters. In an interview with the Des Moines Register last week, Romney stated that: “there’s no legislation with regards to abortion that I’m familiar with that would become part of my agenda.”
After being ignored during the first Presidential debate, women are now demanding answers about how the most pressing women’s rights issues of our day will be addressed by the candidates. And both campaigns now know that whoever responds most effectively to women’s demand for answers will be the next President of the United States.