August 15 2012

Pitting Ryan Against Women A Counterproductive Sideshow

Forbes

Sabrina Schaeffer

It didn’t take more than a day for the Left to come up with a new campaign mantra: Paul Ryan is bad for women.

Yet American women should be skeptical of this attack on the GOP vice presidential candidate.  The charge presumes that more than half of the electorate all wants the same thing. And what’s more, it assumes that all women want and need cradle-to-grave government care, no matter the costs to our economy or freedoms.

The attempt to demonize Rep. Ryan as an enemy of women was hard to miss in the aftermath of his selection.  NBC’s Andrea Mitchell asserted over the weekend, “this is not a pick for suburban moms. This is not a pick for women.“ Jamal Simmons followed suit over at US News, suggesting that while women care about the economy, abortion remains a “threshold trust” question. And at the Daily News, Zerlina Maxwell writes that Ryan has “voted for some of the most extreme positions on issues near and dear to many female voters.”

But this is wishful thinking on the part of progressives. The fact is polls consistently show that women’s top concerns are the same as men’s.  According to a recent Kaiser Family Foundation survey, “female voters (like male voters) continue to focus on the economy above all else as an election issue.”

Similarly a message framing experiment conducted for the Independent Women’s Voice (IWV) by Evolving Strategies this summer found that while the “War on Women” narrative might please the most liberal Democrats, it actually hurts them with independents and weak partisans – the very voters who helped put Obama in the White House.

This doesn’t seem to be stopping the Left, however, from trying to position Ryan as antagonistic to women and steering the conversation away from the economy. In particular they seem focused on three issues: Ryan’s views on entitlement reform, workplace regulations, and the HHS contraception mandate. But as women get more information about Ryan’s positions, they are likely to find him even more appealing.

Take Medicare: In a press statement, the National Organization for Women condemned Ryan for putting women at risk by proposing to “convert Medicare to a private voucher system.” It’s true women view health care generally as a critical issue this election cycle; but Ryan’s Path to Prosperity plan proposes giving future seniors a choice between staying on traditional Medicare or transitioning to receiving vouchers to enable them to buy plans in the private market place. Similarly, while the Affordable Care Act begins making cuts in 2014 and impacting seniors presently receiving Medicare, the Ryan plan doesn’t propose cuts for anyone at or over the age of 55.

Turning to the workplace, Ryan’s opposition to protective laws like the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act and the Paycheck Fairness Act is another way the Left are trying to pit the Wisconsin lawmaker against women. But this strategy is doomed to backfire. Again, research IWV commissioned found that when women were exposed to a debate over the Paycheck Fairness Act, support for President Obama’s broad economic plans dropped by nearly 20-points. While women may feel discrimination exists, they don’t view excessive government regulation as the answer.

Finally, women’s groups are in a stew over Rep. Ryan’s opposition to the HHS mandate. Not only do female voters know Ryan and his GOP cohorts are not trying to deprive them of birth control, but also this is just not a motivating issue. Democrats are using contraception as a sideshow to motivate young, single women – a voting bloc that threatens to be a problem for the president this November. As Democratic pollster Celinda Lake revealed, only 38 percent of unmarried women turned out in the 2010 midterm elections, down from 60 percent in 2008. But as Gallup revealed months ago, despite the attention the Left are giving to birth control and Sandra Fluke, voters do not see it as a top election priority. Compared to health care generally (39 percent), only 20 percent of respondents rank birth control as an “extremely important” issue.

Charlie Cook said it best during a recent National Journal panel: “when you’re talking about 52% of the electorate you’re talking about kind of a big group, and not all alike.” Nevertheless Democrats and advocates on the left continue to believe that positioning the genders against one another is a surefire way to win the hearts – and votes – of women in November.

What’s good for women and their families, however, are not more government “freebies” but robust economic growth. Mitt Romney knows that winning in November will require tackling the issues that really matter to women – the size and scope of government, economic growth, and job creation. And Ryan seems just the man to help him do it.

Sabrina L. Schaeffer is executive director of the Independent Women’s Forum.

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