It’s the Issues, Stupid: Women Favor Candidates’ Views Over Junk in the Trunk


This article was originally published by MsRepresentation, a project of the Women’s Campaign Forum.  I am a guest writer there prior to the elections.

An article in yesterday’s Los Angeles Times at first seems like a revelation but makes eminent sense: Women voters favor the candidate that most represents their position on issues, not the ones that most represent them anatomically.

Or at least it makes sense to me.

Women, as a demographic group, are smart.  They know best the challenges they face in their own lives economically and otherwise, what they want for family and loved ones, and how tough it is to manage home, work, family, and the rest of life, even in the best of times.  To present them with and expect them to vote for a female candidate just because she is…female…is to suggest that women are lemmings.

I believe that in the abstract and in reality, every single demographic group in the United States that has been historically un- or under-represented in politics wants to see more of their own represent them.  That is why there is a push in progressive circles, at least, to get more women, people of color, and more diverse ethnic-group representation into public office.  It is a critical goal in both the short and the long run.

But “their own” means much more than just sex and gender.  I know that others of my colleagues disagree with me, but just supporting a woman because she is a woman is not, in my view, empowering.  You support candidates for office whom you feel are going to best represent and advance your interests. 

Which is why the majority of progressive black voters don’t just vote for any black candidate, the majority of Latinos don’t just vote for any Latino candidate, and the majority of women don’t just vote for any woman candidate.  To be blunt,  they are too smart for that.  People want more people who look like them but also think about and are concerned about their issues, and the latter trumps the former any day.

This is why it is no surprise to me that the LA Times article finds that, even with two women candidates on the ballot (Meg Whitman for Governor and Carly Fiorina for Senator) women in California go “well beyond party alliance in deciding how to vote.

In many ways, this is the problem with identity politics.  You don’t identify with everyone who is in your demographic group based on sex, gender, or even religion.  So while, as the Times notes, Whitman and Fiorina “have run campaigns premised in part on the belief that they could attract women voters who typically brush aside the Republican Party… new polls indicate that, if anything, women are treating their candidacies more harshly than are men.”

The Times points out the fundamental reasons for the assessment of women voters of these two women candidates:

There are several disadvantages for the Republican women now. Women voters have historically been more motivated by candidates who favor abortion rights; Whitman only favors some abortion rights and Fiorina has said she would support overturning Roe vs. Wade.

The Times poll also found that women are deeply concerned about issues such as global warming (disapproving of Proposition 23, which would suspend the state’s global warming law, by 20 points while  men disapproved by 11 points).  Fiorina and Whitman both have the “wrong” positions from the point of view of the majority of women on these issues.

And:

When asked in a new Los Angeles Times/USC poll which candidate for governor — Democrat Jerry Brown or Republican Whitman — was more truthful, likely male voters said Brown by a 15-point margin, and women said Brown by 25 points. When asked whether they were more concerned about Whitman’s sympathies for Wall Street or Brown’s ties to unions, men cited Brown as their concern, by a 13-point margin. Women, by a 17-point margin, that they were more worried about Whitman.

Overall, men sided with Brown by 3 points but women backed him by 21 points. In the Senate race, the poll found men siding with Fiorina over Democrat Barbara Boxer by 2 points, while women sided with Boxer by 17 points.

“What trumps gender with women is the same thing that trumps gender with men,” said Darry Sragow, a Democratic political consultant and interim director of the Times/USC poll. ” It’s, ‘Who is this person? What kind of person am I voting for here?’ as well as issues. Certainly, we’ve seen with the Whitman campaign that her problems are not about issues, it’s about personality and character.”

Put another way, women know when they see a fae in ewe’s clothing.

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