Traditional Issues, New Strategies
The conservative movement and the Republican Party, we’re told, have become estranged from women voters. Throughout the 2012 election, as the Obama campaign relentlessly played the demagogue on social issues, political consultants were quick to condemn the GOP for having a “woman problem.” After Romney lost the women vote by nine points, and the election along with it, the browbeating only intensified.
But amidst all this, there were conservative women’s groups that fought back. Among the most vocal and influential were Independent Women’s Voice (IWV), and its sister organization Independent Women’s Forum (IWF).
IWF battled the perception of the so-called Republican “war on women,” flogged relentlessly by the left during the 2012 campaign. It released a book two months before Election Day, co-authored by IWF managing director Carrie Lukas and executive director Sabrina Schaeffer, titled Liberty is No War on Women. In it, Lukas and Schaeffer tackle the left’s accusation that American society is hostile to women, and propose their own agenda to reduce the influence of big government and allow both men and women to thrive.
IWV also created a series of clever educational ads, which it aired during the 2012 election season. The 30-second clips feature women comparing Barack Obama’s presidency to a failed relationship:
IWV’s and IWF’s approach is very different from that of left-wing organizations. Rather than treat women as a demographic to be divided from the rest of the electorate and conquered, the groups argue that traditional conservative issues, particularly healthcare, are best for America as a whole, and thus women too. For example, in the 2012 presidential election, IWV worked in six key battleground states. Its educational campaign was focused on reaching political independents and exposing facts about the president’s health care law.
“We did not mention Romney in the education messaging that we were doing. We just talked about the ways in which Obamacare was going to affect people,” Heather R. Higgins, president and CEO of IWV and IWF, told AmSpec.
It seems to have worked. In the aftermath of the election, IWV discovered that it had made independents in the six states 21 points more likely to vote for Romney.
There are two basic elements to IWV’s messaging system. The first component involves talking to voters in a different language and tone than most political groups. It stresses delivering its message at the right pitch to persuade people, rather than alienating them. Secondly, it seeks to remove barriers. It focuses on identifying the real reasons that voters do not agree with the group’s message and the motivations behind those beliefs.
For example, during Scott Walker’s 2012 recall election, while Walker’s campaign and outside groups focused on the money that he was saving the state, yielding a five-point spread over his opponent, independents to whom IWV did an education campaign about the unfairness of public sector compensation, which never mentioned Walker, his reforms, or the recall, then favored Walker by 36 points. IWV targeted voters in three ways: it utilized interactive phone calls, postcards with questionnaires, and targeted online advertising. Walker won the recall election, though his Democrat opponent, Tom Barrett, secured the women’s vote.
The effect of IWV’s work can be most clearly seen in Mark Sanford’s victory in this year’s special South Carolina 1st Congressional District election. After the National Republican Congressional Committee pulled out of Sanford’s race, he trailed opponent Elizabeth Colbert Busch 50-41 percent, despite the district’s heavily Republican identity. In an environment where Colbert Busch was outspending Sanford 5-to-1, IWV stepped in during the very last week of the race. It promoted the Obamacare Repeal Pledge, which Sanford had signed. By using its messaging system, and spending about $250,000 in the last few days of the campaign, IWV was able to help Sanford secure a nine-point victory.
As IWV focuses on an alternative form of campaign messaging and targets healthcare as its main issue, its sister organization, IWF, focuses heavily on responses to the left’s culture of alarmism. Liberals have developed an increasingly hysterical message that specializes in guilt-tripping women, especially mothers, into changing their living habits. Left-wing politicians push for regulation of items they deem unhealthy, like salt and sugar. A report issued by IWF found that two-thirds of women have felt guilty about not living healthier lifestyles; however, only 16 percent of women think the best way to reduce obesity is “to ban, regulate, and tax certain foods and beverages.” IWF seeks to use scientific data to determine why such regulation is unnecessary, and even harmful to society.
IWF’s biggest projects involve the issue of workplace regulation, including its program Women at Work. It seeks to evaluate the so-called wage gap, and to examine government policies concerning workplace regulation and to determine their actual effect on women. Earlier this month, on the 50th anniversary of the Equal Pay Act, representatives from IWF went up to Capitol Hill to discuss the supposed gap and to explain the opportunities available for girls and women today.
“The wage gap statistic merely compares all men and all women, ignoring the many factors that we know influence how much someone earns,” according to the IWF website.
IWF utilizes broadcast media as a tool to relay its message and doesn’t shy away from debating liberal feminists. Staff members frequently speak on the radio, and have done interviews with Glamour magazine and the Joy Behar: Say Anything show.
“We’re always looking for new ways to reach audiences…this year we focused on breaking into media outlets where more women are actually getting their news,” Sabrina Schaeffer told AmSpec.
And that’s exactly what the Republican Party needs: innovative and evidence-based arguments that have broad appeal, including with women. With the gender gap a serious problem for the GOP, and many obsequious commentators demanding that conservatives abandon half their beliefs, IWF and IWV are showing how the right can win the old-fashioned way. That means not just with women voters, but liberty-loving Americans of all demographics.