Was 2012 A “Year of the Woman?” Depends Who You Ask

It’s not unrelated that the 2012 elections swept a record-breaking number of women into Congress after two years of more new abortion restrictions enacted than any time in the 40 years since Roe v Wade.

Or is it?

“I’m surprised at how little we have heard from the Republican party [since the election] about their 18-point gender gap,” said Stephanie Schriock, president of EMILY’s List, a 27-year old group that works to elect pro-choice, Democratic women.

At a National Press Club event Monday, Schriock pointed out that while the conservative men driving an extreme Republican party agenda fared poorly with her group’s core voting constituency, surveys show independent women steered clear as well, and not as if by coincidence.

By some numbers:

  • In an EMILY’s List survey of independent women voters, 77 percent said Congress was made up of “Old, out-of-touch, male politicians who don’t have a clue what life is like” for them.
  • In the wake of the 2012 elections, 56 percent of independent women voters thought it would make a positive difference that a historic number of pro-choice, Democratic women had been elected. Just eight percent believed it would have a negative impact.
  • For every unmarried woman who voted Romney, two voted Obama.

If reshuffling is occurring within the Republican party to better cater to independent women who indicate concern about the everyday economy left unaddressed in fiscal cliff and debt ceiling showdowns, it has not been obvious.

Following the election, 78 percent of women ranked equal pay as the most important issue facing this country. No prominent Republican has pledged to revisit it since the party blocked it from proceeding in the 112th Congress. 

Longstanding bipartisan efforts have also crumbled. During the lame-duck session, House Speaker John Boehner allowed the Violence Against Women Act to expire for the first time since its passage in 1994.

Also since the election Governor Bob McDonnell (R, Va.) quietly approved stringent abortion clinic regulations that had drawn national condemnation from reproductive justice and public health advocates. 

It is for these reasons and others that Schriock vows that EMILY’s List will continue its efforts to fill the pipeline on the other side of the aisle, and in particular to elect pro-choice, Democratic women to 38 governorships in play between now and the next election.

With the greatest number of women ever in Congress, and EMILY’s List winning a record 80 percent of its general election races, there is still mathematical reason to debate 2012 as a “Year of the Woman.” The elections have come and gone and men still hold 80 out of 100 (80 percent) seats in the Senate, and 355 of 433 (82 percent) filled seats in the House. A subsequent “Year of the Man,” with men taking their turn to serve as about one-fifth of Congress, appears to be outside the realm of national imagination.

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