GOP poll of women: Party ‘stuck in past’
Originally posted on Politico
By JAKE SHERMAN and ANNA PALMER | 8/27/14 5:47 PM EDT Updated: 8/28/14 5:35 PM EDT
A detailed report commissioned by two major Republican groups — including one backed by Karl Rove — paints a dismal picture for Republicans, concluding female voters view the party as “intolerant,” “lacking in compassion” and “stuck in the past.”
Women are “barely receptive” to Republicans’ policies, and the party does “especially poorly” with women in the Northeast and Midwest, according to an internal Crossroads GPS and American Action Network report obtained by POLITICO. It was presented to a small number of senior aides this month on Capitol Hill, according to multiple sources.
Republicans swore they’d turn around the party’s performance with women after Mitt Romney’s loss in 2012. And while they are in good shape in 2014, poised to pick up seats in the House and possibly take the majority in the Senate, the new report shows they have not improved their standing with women — which could exacerbate their problems if Hillary Clinton is the Democratic nominee in 2016.
The report — “Republicans and Women Voters: Huge Challenges, Real Opportunities” — was the product of eight focus groups across the country and a poll of 800 registered female voters this summer. The large-scale project was a major undertaking for the GOP groups.
“The gender gap is hardly a new phenomenon, but nevertheless, it’s important for conservatives to identify what policies best engage women, and our project found multiple opportunities,” said Dan Conston, a spokesman for the American Action Network. “It’s no surprise that conservatives have more work to do with women.”
Republicans in Washington say they recognize the problem. Republicans who have seen or been briefed on the polling were not surprised about the outcome. The poll was conducted by Public Opinion Strategies and Axis Research.
Paul Lindsey, the spokesman for Rove-backed Crossroads GPS, said, “There are a number of House policymakers and staff who have been willing to focus on issues important to women, and we think it’s important that they are aware of the policy solutions that are available to help address these concerns.”
The solutions offered include neutralizing Democratic attacks that the GOP doesn’t support “fairness” for women; “deal honestly with any disagreement on abortion, then move to other issues”; and “pursue policy innovations that inspire women voters to give the GOP a ‘fresh look.’”
The report is blunt about the party’s problems. It says 49 percent of women view Republicans unfavorably, while 39 percent view Democrats unfavorably.
It also found that Republicans “fail to speak to women in the different circumstances in which they live” — as breadwinners, for example. “This lack of understanding and acknowledgment closes many minds to Republican policy solutions,” the report says. The groups urge Republicans to embrace policies that “are not easily framed as driven by a desire to aid employers or ‘the rich.’”
Two policies former House Majority Leader Eric Cantor promoted as a way to make inroads with middle-class women and families — charter schools and flexible work schedules — were actually the least popular policies among female voters.
Republicans have long had a troubled relationship with female voters, but this report, which comes out just months before Election Day, is the most recent detailed illustration of the problem. Republicans have several initiatives to attract female candidates and voters. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington, the No. 4 House Republican, for example, is spearheading her chamber’s effort. The Republican National Committee is trying to engage women in 25 “targeted counties for the midterm election,” a spokesman said.
One bright spot in the poll responses was among married women. Married women without a college degree view Republicans favorably, the poll shows. Married women prefer a Republican over a Democrat, 48 percent to 38 percent.
“Just like a gender gap exists, a marriage gap also exists,” Conston said. “While young unmarried women have always skewed liberal, the polling found married women across the country are far more likely to be conservative and are receptive to center-right policies.”
But the GOP appears to have a long way to go when it comes to capturing a significant slice of the female electorate.
Even on fiscal matters — traditionally the party’s strongest issue set — Republicans hold only slight advantages that do not come close to outweighing their negative attributes. The GOP holds a 3 percent advantage over Democrats when female voters are asked who has “good ideas to grow the economy and create jobs,” and the same advantage on who is “fiscally responsible and can be trusted with our tax dollars.”
When female voters are asked who “wants to make health care more affordable,” Democrats have a 39 percent advantage, and a 40 percent advantage on who “looks out for the interests of women.” Democrats have a 39 percent advantage when it comes to who “is tolerant of other people’s lifestyles.”
Female voters who care about the top four issues — the economy, health care, education and jobs — vote overwhelmingly for Democrats. Most striking, Democrats hold a 35-point advantage with female voters who care about jobs and a 26 percent advantage when asked which party is willing to compromise. House Republicans say jobs and the economy are their top priorities.
Andrea Bozek, a spokesman for the National Republican Congressional Committee, said the party’s candidates “across the country are speaking directly to female voters both on the campaign trail and in their television ads.”
But in Washington, Republican policies have failed to sway women. In fact, they appear to have turned women off. For example, the focus groups and polls found that women “believe that ‘enforcing equal pay for equal work’ is the policy that would ‘help women the most.’”
“Republicans who openly deny the legitimacy of the issue will be seen as out of touch with women’s life experiences,” the report warned, hinting at GOP opposition to pay-equity legislation. It’s the policy item independents and Democrats believe will help women the most.
The groups suggest a three-pronged approach to turning around their relationship with women. First, they suggest the GOP “neutralize the Democrats’” attack that Republicans don’t support fairness for women. They suggest Republican lawmakers criticize Democrats for “growing government programs that encourage dependency rather than opportunities to get ahead.” That message tested better than explaining that the GOP supports a number of policies that could help fairness for women.
Second, the groups suggest Republicans “deal honestly with any disagreement on abortion, then move to other issues.” And third, “pursue policy innovations that inspire women voters to give the GOP a ‘fresh look.’” The report suggests lawmakers and candidates inject “unexpected” GOP policy proposals into the debate as a way to sway female voters. Suggestions include ways to improve job-training programs, “strengthening enforcement against gender bias in the workplace” and “expanding home health care services by allowing more health care professionals to be paid by Medicare for home health services.”
Katie Packer Gage, a political strategist who focuses on improving GOP standing with female voters, said women think of “old, white, right, out of touch” men when they think of the Republican Party.
“I think a lot of folks are whistling past the graveyard on this … Certainly if Hillary is on the top of the ticket for Democrats, it is going to be a significant challenge for us,” she said in an interview. “Maybe we’ll see women on our side that will step up as well. … We have to quit sitting back and taking it on the chin. I think we have to play offense on this.”