Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Five Truths About Women Voters - That Are Flat Out False

By :- Melinda Henneberger

Except for phonetically, I never did figure out what “W Is for Women” was supposed to mean. But since this year is purportedly all about women voters, it’s time we figured it out: Can a Woman for Rudy ever fi nd happiness as an Obama Mama? And is every woman who doesn’t hate Hillary Clinton inclined to vote for her? If I learned anything from my 18 months of interviews with women across the country, it’s that—like selling magazine subscriptions and talking on television—running a winning campaign is harder than it looks. So to all of my fellow second-guessers who think that what women (voters) want is blatantly obvious, I say: No, it isn’t. No matter how many people write otherwise, sometimes the dots do not connect. Not neatly, anyway.

My interviews with women of all ages, races, tax brackets and points of view, in 20 states, were the unscientific opposite of a poll. I asked almost no questions—I wanted to know what they were thinking about, not what I thought they should be thinking about—and then spent hours listening to their highly enlightening non-answers. These conversations certainly brought home how difficult actual polling is, not because voters lie but because their inclinations are so complicated and contradictory. Not to mention unexamined. In Washington, if you’ve run into someone at the dry cleaner twice, you probably have a pretty good idea which way he leans politically. But out in America, politics might be the new sex—unmentionable in polite company even now, and thus chronically untested and subject to revision. And retired or in college, wealthy or without a permanent address, the women I spoke to convinced me that much of what we think we know about their behavior in the ballot box is flat-out false.

Myth #1:

Theoretically, sure, all things being equal, women favor the female in the race. Voting is such a complicated calculus, though, that they never are equal. The idea that “if you look like me, then sister, I’m with you’’ is so widely assumed that a recent Women across the political spectrum consistently say they like the idea of a female president, but that does not mean that support for a woman is a given. That’s such a simplistic view, some women find it insulting. Which is why explicit gender-based appeals are a turnoff, for younger women in particular.

The equally false flip side of the assumption that women naturally favor other women is that when they don’t, it’s because they’re selfhating: “We’re always hardest on our own.’’ On the contrary, Obama and John Edwards’ female backers murmur earnestly about wishing they liked Clinton better than they do; they profess to be feeling guilty—to the point that the next over-the-top anti-Hillary e-mail they receive could be the one that turns them into her supporters.

Myth #2:

Conservative Women Just Aren’t Ready for a Woman in the White House.

Though I did meet some strongly religious women who see a biblical injunction against women in even secular leadership roles, theirs was the minority view. Right-leaning women regularly mention Condoleezza Rice as someone they’d love to see run: “For a black woman to rise the way she has? She had to be extra crafty,’’ says Beth Barach, a non-salaried mom in the Boston exurbs who swung all the way from Ralph Nader in 2000 to Bush in ’04. Clearly, she means “crafty” as a compliment to Condi, and adds, “And she’s not Hillary; she’s not riding on someone’s coattails.’’ If Clinton is not to her liking, it’s not because as an outsider at the boys’ club, she lacks any requisite snap in the old towel. On the contrary, one of the few points of consensus among women of varying ideologies is that that might be a good thing.

Myth #3:

Like Donors at a Cocktail Party, Women Pay Little Attention to the Candidate’s Spouse.

In 2004, I argued against the notion that Teresa Heinz Kerry lost her husband any support. Yet in interviews, a number of women cited their perception that Sen. John Kerry’s wife was condescending as the deciding factor in their vote for Bush. “I’m a registered Democrat and I’m not for being in Iraq,’’ says Candy Kemper, a public health nurse in Illinois. “I don’t know that Bush is totally truthful, and he’s not the smartest person in the world. But Kerry, I really didn’t like his wife, and that influenced me. She has a smart mouth and doesn’t control it.’’ The fact that Laura Bush, who remains well-liked, was rarely mentioned as a factor one way or the other suggests that it’s easier for a presidential candidate’s spouse to hurt than help. But according to one recent poll, fully a third of women voters say that not only does the candidate’s spouse weigh heavily in their choice of a president, but that they take the perceived happiness of the candidate’s marriage into account as well.

Myth #4:

The Women’s Vote is All About “Women’s Issues.’’

Given that some women put universal health care at the top of their political wish lists, and others want nothing so much as a fence along the Mexican border, what issues would those be? Even on abortion rights, they’re divided—and even within the pro-choice camp, subdivided into so many shades of gray that I met self-described pro-lifers who see no practical point in opposing Roe v. Wade, and a nun who calls herself pro-choice because she thinks abortion should be a legal option for rape victims. In ’04, even Heinz Kerry described herself to me as “not really pro-choice.’’

Her husband talked early and often about all he would do for women, surely mentioning pay equity more than any candidate since Shirley Chisholm. Yet he still lost support among women, relative to Gore’s advantage with female voters in 2000. Why was that? We were told the Bush-backing women were “security moms,” putting greater emphasis on feeling safe against terrorism than on other issues. But again, the conventional wisdom proved unconvincing, since in my interviews just weeks after the election, “security moms’’ seemed to have disappeared, presumably into hiding in a wellstocked shelter somewhere. So, why did those who turned away from Kerry, despite his stands on “women’s issues,” do so? Maybe because …

Myth #5:

Women Vote for the Candidate Whose Views Best Match Their Own.

The longer women spent working through their ’04 decisions aloud, the more they tended to boil down to: I just liked Bush better. (And the fact that he disagrees with you on what you just said was your No. 1 issue?) Yes, but I just liked him. Or just did not like the other fella, what’s-his-name, the one who did agree with me. Take Martha Leasure, a retiree I met at a union hall in Clarington, Ohio, where the unemployment rate is one of the highest in the state. What she says she wants more than anything in a president is “someone who is in there for the people and not these big corporations.’’ But when I gather from this near perfect iteration of Al Gore’s “the people, not the powerful’’ theme that she voted for Kerry in ’04, she sets me straight: No, she went for Bush.

“I got talked into it by my son. He belongs to the NRA, and they had him all riled up’’ that Kerry wanted to take away his gun. Did she see it that way, too? She sighs. “Bush was supposed to be a good Christian man, and he didn’t believe in abortion, so maybe I wasn’t that hard to talk into it. But I guarantee I’d never vote for Bush again, even if he could run.’’ So does that mean she plans to vote Democratic in ’08? She laughs, as if I’ve said something terribly funny: “I don’t make a difference between Republican and Democrat. I just go for the best man.’’

That view seemed to be echoed by a high school Spanish teacher I met who was infuriated by No Child Left Behind, yet said she couldn’t resist what she saw as the president’s appealingly high comfort level with gay people. After a while, I began to wonder if picking a candidate wasn’t a little like dating, with chemistry and timing regularly trumping reason and a common vision. (You know your friend who insists she’s looking for a man who’s a solid citizen, but can fi nd the out-of-work landscape artist in the room blindfolded?) Not that men base their political choices strictly on the merits of the candidates’ respective position papers; see Drew Westen’s “The Political Brain: The Role of Emotion in Deciding the Fate of the Nation,” or Bryan Caplan’s “The Myth of the Rational Voter: Why Democracies Choose Bad Policies.” Even my own staunchly Republican father surprised me recently, by announcing that after 30-odd years as a single-issue pro-life voter, he is enthusiastically backing Rudy Giuliani in ’08. So, what happened to abortion as a litmus test? “He doesn’t support it like those Democrats do.’’

When we talk about women voters, the real question, of course, is which women? White, married, rural and suburban women have been trending Republican for years, while single urban women of color remain reliably Democratic demographics. Yet there might be one way to pander to all of us better: Across the board, women said the key was … not to pander at all. Maybe some of you are thinking sure, and once you can fake sincerity, everything else is a curtain call. But many women said they are looking for someone they trust even more than someone they agree with in all the particulars. “I was against the war’’ from the start, says Mary Hurd, a convenience store manager in Clearfield, Pa. Last time around, “I actually had decided on Kerry. But the more I listened, the more I just couldn’t believe some of the things he’d say and I thought he didn’t believe them, either.’’ Because Kerry seemed to be promising more than even he thought he could deliver, she went for Bush in the end. And next time, she says, she’ll again go for the candidate who strikes her as most sincere. “I just have to be convinced.’’

Melinda Henneberger is a Slate contributing writer and author of “If They Only Listened to Us: What Women Voters Want Politicians to Hear

Women Automatically Prefer the Female Candidate.

Getting Girls to Think Politics

By :- Kelly DiNardo

She can’t vote yet, but Natasha Dupree, 17, already thinks politics—thanks, in part, to Running Start. Last year, the team behind Women Under Forty Political Action Campaign (WUFPAC), a bipartisan group that works to get young women elected to federal office, began Running Start, a non-profit with the goal of engaging high school girls in the political process.

“We want to make politics more accessible,” says Susannah Shakow, president of Running Start. “We need women to run for office. We need women shaping policy because we represent a unique point of view. Men don’t seem to need the encouragement to get involved or to run. Even if you look at student government, men have three-quarters of the positions in college government. I think women need to hear early that it’s appropriate to get involved.”

One way the bipartisan group introduces high school girls to the political process is through summer workshops. Their fi rst was a three-day event for 20 girls, held this past July. Twenty-one girls from the D.C. metro area, including Dupree, spent a few days learning what it’s like to be a candidate. They got debate and media training and met women involved in all sectors of the political sphere.

“The idea is just to plant the seeds,” says Shakow, who hopes to expand the program to include girls from outside D.C. this year. “The girls we chose for the program were already doing leadership things. We want to channel that toward politics.”

This year, Running Start will double the attendees at its summer workshop. And in 2009, it plans to take the high school trainings national. This is in addition to Running Start programs already underway for young professional women in the D.C. area. Initiatives like these fill an important gap in encouraging political activism, explains Debbie Walsh, director of Rutgers’ Center for American Women and Politics.

“There’s always been the notion that little boys can grow up to be president,” says Walsh, who works with a similar program for high school-age Girl Scouts. “The more opportunities we can give young girls to think about politics and understand it’s a possibility for them, the better.”

For Dupree, the July workshop was incredibly engaging. “I thought we’d be observing and didn’t expect it to be active,” she says. “I assumed it would be a seminar on the history of women in politics. It was completely the opposite. There was a lot of interaction between the adults and the girls.”

One of the highlights for Dupree was an internship with Rep. Steve Kagen, D-Wisc. “I learned you can get to politics through a lot of different routes,” she says. “I want to work in neonatal care for Doctors Without Borders and then go into politics. Seeing that Congressman Kagen could work in internal medicine and then go into politics was really interesting.”

Running Start found a way to link the issues Dupree cares about with politics. Making that connection remains the ultimate challenge for such groups, according to Walsh. But one thing that may offset that challenge is Sen. Hillary Clinton’s presidential run. “It will get them thinking that this is a world that is a possibility for them,” she says.

Whether Dupree runs for office later in life or not, she gives Running Start a vote of approval. “It doesn’t make you say I’m definitely going to be president one day,” she says. “But it does show that you need to get involved.”

GOP: The Next Generation. Can These Online Pioneers Drag Their Party Into the Future?

By :- Walter Alarkon

The Republican YouTube debate pleased few people more than David All. A 28-year-old former Senate Republican aide, All and a handful of other techsavvy conservatives created SavetheDebate.com to urge Mitt Romney and Rudy Giuliani to drop their objections to the debate’s format and take part. When all the major GOP candidates fi nally took the stage in November, 4.5 million people tuned in—the largest audience of any debate up to that point.

All, who owns a new media consulting shop, The David All Group, flew down from Washington to Florida to watch the debate in person. Afterward, he posted video on his blog, along with photos of himself in the spin room with other bloggers, Rep. Duncan Hunter and Chuck Norris. His Twitter message read, “Best debate yet—GOP or Dem.” He changed his Facebook profile photo to one of him opening his dress shirt and sticking his chest out, Superman-like, to reveal a YouTube T-shirt.

Just getting the GOP candidates to the YouTube debate was an important victory for the technology wing of the Republican Party. But the fact that it was such a struggle laid bare the skepticism that some Republicans still have about the Internet—a resistance that worries the group of young conservatives looking for the best tools to take on Democrats in the 21st century.

“It’s like the idea of an advance crew visiting new planets,” says All, a fasttalking, laptop-toting Ohio native eager to spread his ideas about the Web. “When it comes to modern media, you’re going to have a small ‘away team’ sent down to scout out the new terrain, to make sure it’s not hostile territory. The first crew takes a risk for a larger landing party, and finally the entire crew, who beam down once they know the planet is safe.”

In All’s analogy, he and other tech-minded Republicans are the small advance crew, the Republican presidential fi eld is the larger landing party, and the rest of the GOP, he hopes, will eventually join them. The risk-taking advance party includes All, plus Patrick Ruffi ni, President Bush’s 2004 campaign Web director; Robert Bluey, the Heritage Foundation’s Web guru; and Erick Erickson, editor of the conservative community blog RedState.com. They hope to introduce Republicans to new tactics, although they’re not talking about revolutionizing the party.

After all, they’re conservatives, the side built on respect for tradition. Instead, they want to nudge Republicans carefully in the right direction so that they use more of the tools available to them. The tricky thing is that each of them has their own idea of the right direction, and no one’s quite sure what the terrain will look like by the time they get to their destination. It could even be that the online world won’t live up to its billing.

“At the risk of my own job security, the jury is still out on whether or not the Internet is going to be the silver bullet,” says Cyrus Krohn, eCampaign director for the Republican National Committee. “For all of the success stories we’ve heard since the advent of the Internet, show me one significant victory and I’ll eat crow.”

The Way Forward

Of course, conservatives aren’t totally absent in the online world. They have their own blogs—InstaPundit, Michelle Malkin, Little Green Footballs—that are as strident and nearly as widely read as the liberal DailyKos. And they also get their message out through news sites like The Drudge Report and NewsMax. But there’s no Right-wing version of MoveOn. org, the non-profi t advocacy group with the clout and coffers to shape the debate (as it did last summer with its controversial “General Betray Us” ad). And there’s no successful conservative ActBlue, the Web site through which Democratic activists have donated more than $32 million to their candidates across the country.

So what’s the plan for pushing conservative political action into the Internet age? One approach is to do what the Left does, but do it better. In press releases, All says his site is more innovative than ActBlue, since it gives candidates and supporters more control over its pages. And like MoveOn, Erickson’s RedState has started sending out “action e-mails,” urging conservative activists to phone their congressional representatives about particular votes. The first, sent out last October, called on members to oppose the expansion of the State Children’s Health Insurance Program.

Of course, MoveOn’s e-mail list is 3.5 million strong; RedState’s has only about 2,000 addresses. Still, Erickson says even small innovations like these are happening because the party is hurting now, just as the challenging environment of the early 1990s led to GOP innovations. In fact, Web activism tools that Democrats use now—blast e-mails, blogs, online fundraising— came of age when Republicans were trying to undermine President Bill Clinton. Erickson recalls how protests against the Clinton administration often grew out of posts on the conservative site Free Republic, which was cutting edge back then.

“When the Left needed to get organized, they had, number one, the anger from 2000 and, number two, the tools that the Right did not have when they got organized.” If the Right was out of power six years ago, they would have been the ones to develop the Web tools most effective today, just as they developed talk radio in the 1990s and direct mail in the 1970s, according to Erickson’s logic.Human Events, The Weekly Standard and the American Conservative Union, along with some Republican Senate staffers—to listen to members of Congress tell them about the Republican message du jour and how they, too, believe in the power of the Internet.

The worry for conservatives like All and Erickson is that their candidates will soon lose elections and congressional floor fights because of a reliance on old techniques and because progressives have become more effective at Internet activism.

There’s a common lesson to be learned from both Republicans’ direct mail successes in 1980 and today’s liberal netroots, says Richard Viguerie, the 74-year-old conservative direct mail guru: both movements came from outside their party’s establishment, and thus had a greater willingness to take risks.

“One of the weaknesses on the Republican side is that Republicans are royalists—the king is the king, long live the king,” says Viguerie. To jar Republicans from sticking to leaders who aren’t willing to try new things, Viguerie wants to create a “third force,” a group that works outside the party structure. That way, it won’t be tethered to the Republican Party when its tactics become stale or when it strays from conservative principles, such as fi scal restraint.

Viguerie stepped down from his daily role as president of a Virginia direct mail firm last year so he could focus on a new Internet venture, ConservativeHQ.com. Calling the Internet the fi fth great mass communication vehicle—after the printing press, moveable type, radio and television—he says his new site will exploit the opportunities to connect with voters, just as MoveOn has done, in the hope of pushing the debate rightward. “We have an agenda, and the agenda is to relaunch the conservative movement,” he says. Robert Bluey sees a different path. Every week at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank blocks from the Capitol, the 28-year-old Bluey gathers about thirty people—bloggers from

Deposed House Majority Leader Tom DeLay was a guest one week, speaking about a topic that surfaces often. To counter the new Democratic majority, DeLay started a non-profit with a shiny new Web site that will organize grassroots groups in eight cities. “We [conservatives] do a very good job of think tanks, of working inside the Beltway, putting on events,” DeLay told bloggers on a conference call, from his office in Texas. “But what I’ve seen in my 25 years in Washington is that there’s not enough communication and there’s not enough action.” While DeLay spoke, Ken Blackwell, the former Ohio Secretary of State and DeLay’s partner in this venture, showed off the Web site, which they hope to use to draw more activists.

Bluey hopes to foster that action through the very think tanks that DeLay praises. Just because Republicans know they have to use the Internet doesn’t mean they’re going to do it the same way liberals have, relying on outsiders to come up with innovations. He says that Heritage’s role is to bring the conservative movement together. Now that conservatives are blogging, that means bringing bloggers together. The better the network, the stronger the movement becomes, he figures.

When asked whether he thinks he and the other young turks are the Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy 2.0, Bluey says, “Well, I never thought about it that way, but ... yeah!”

He points to the immigration debate as an example. Last spring, when Bluey learned that a group of moderate Senate Republicans were about to join Democrats in backing a comprehensive immigration reform bill, he and other bloggers, particularly those on RedState, started calling on their readers to oppose it. Meanwhile, Bluey and other Heritage fellows reached out to let Senate conservatives know it was okay to fi ght the bill. Several bloggers then posted digital, searchable versions of the bill online. As Bluey tells it, the opposition on the Right snowballed from just a handful of bloggers and senators to talk radio hosts and the rest of the conservative movement.

One advantage of Bluey’s approach, with its emphasis on overseeing conservative Internet efforts through a group like Heritage, is that it lessens the risk of having to cede power to newcomers. An aide to a top Senate Republican, who asked not to be named because he isn’t authorized to speak to the press, pointed to how Web donations fueled Howard Dean’s 2004 presidential bid and helped vault several Democratic Senate and House candidates, like Montana’s Jon Tester, into office in 2006.

“People on the Right saw that and decided we should be able to have this sort of effect, too,” the aide says. “At the same time, people look at the Left, the netroots, and say we don’t want to be exactly like them: a constituent block that demands fealty.”

But ask the Left netroots about this, and they’ll argue that conservatives are the ones who aren’t small-d democratic enough to thrive on the Internet.

The Undiscovered Country

More than Democrats, Republicans like to run a tight, disciplined ship. So, as the conservative movement figures out its online future, there’s bound to be some tension. The kerfuffle on RedState over posts from Ron Paul supporters is a prime example. Paul enjoys massive support online, but is still polling in the single digits and his views hardly mesh with the rest of the Republican Party. So after seeing enough comments from Paul supporters that had gratuitous exclamation points and references to the North American Union, NAFTA Superhighway and Zionists, RedState banned comments about Paul from users who had been registered to the site for less than six months.

“Now, I could offer a long-winded explanation for *why* this new policy is being instituted,” wrote RedState’s Leon Wolf in explaining the decision, “but I’m guessing that most of you can probably guess. Unless you lack the self-awareness to understand just how annoying, time-consuming, and bandwidthwasting responding to the same idiotic arguments from a bunch of liberals pretending to be Republicans can be.”

Put another way: The folks over at RedState weren’t willing to relinquish control over its blog posts to a group of people they weren’t sure would help the party. But All and a handful of other conservative bloggers disagreed, arguing that they would need Republicans of all stripes next year.

All even called Paul the Howard Dean of 2008, the candidate who represents a much needed “revolution,” prompting Erickson to snap back: “I really don’t want David being the tech strategist on the Right the media goes to for comment if he’s more dazzled by the bells and whistles than by the cause.”

Despite the infighting and doubts over the Web, All remains sanguine about the future of his party and the technology. To drive his point home, he offers another analogy.

“Many people are modern ostriches,” All says. “They want to stick their head in the sand and think that the Internet is not making the biggest impact in politics since TV commercials. It’s even bigger than that. It’s the most important thing ever.”

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