Campaigning is really hard work: running from one campaign event to the next, answering hostile questions from the press, kissing babies, and shaking hands. There is no room for mistakes and no time for distractions. Being a politician is a hard life. Don’t laugh; I’m being serious.
Yet politicians need to add something else to their admittedly long to do lists. They need to step back away from the campaign so they can get a sense of the bigger picture and what’s really on the mind of American voters’ these days. If they do, one thing will become immediately clear to them: Women have one issue on their minds this election cycle, and that’s the economy.
The latest polling by the Economist and YouGov reveals that no other issue comes close to being more important to women. A whopping 94% of women believe the economy is an important issue. Those politicians who cling to the idea that abortion is top-of-mind for female voters take note: Only 2 percent of women said abortion was the most important issue, which made it second to last among the issues that respondents were asked to consider.
What do women really care about? The same things that men care about: making ends meet; buying groceries; and the ability to pay bills and mortgages.
Too many on the Left seem to be missing this central point. Democrats are trying as hard as they can to swing the conversation to contraception and abortion. Sadly, Republicans occasionally hand them gifts—such as Todd Akin’s grotesquely ignorant recent comment about rape—that allow them to succeed in diverting the nation’s attention from the real issues that are at stake in this election.
Yet candidates on the Left should ask themselves if they really think they can keep women distracted long enough to forget that six million women are looking for jobs and cannot find them. Do they really think that the millions of women business owners are going to forgetwhat the stalled economy and the crippling uncertainty about tax laws and regulations has meant to their prospects?
The last four years have been rough. Really rough. In 2008, candidate Obama campaigned on turning the economy around and providing hope to all those Americans who were suffering as a result of the collapse of housing prices and steep recession. Yet today, these problems remain and in many ways have become worse.
Take the housing crisis. Recent encouraging news about an uptick in home prices was quickly overshadowed by a report revealing that a record number of homeowners are now delinquent on their mortgages. The Mortgage Banker’s Association explained that these mortgage problems are a symptom of continued high unemployment. When people aren’t working, they struggle to pay the bills, including their mortgages.
Political analysts sometimes downplay such realities when discussing the women’s vote, as if the economy and home prices were somehow men’s domain. Yet, in fact, this housing issue may even be more important to women who, according to the Association of Realtors, are more likely to own homes than men. Married couples account for about two-thirds of home buyers, but single women account for another twenty percent compared to just ten percent for single men. Indeed, the health of the housing market directly impacts the financial health of millions of women nationwide.
As women contemplate their upcoming vote in November, women want to know what they can expect in the next four years to revive an economy that is still fundamentally ailing. Politicians have talked about housing and job creation endlessly, but too much of this has just been talk. Smart women know that unemployment and housing prices are symptoms of larger economic problems. More government bailouts for borrowers or make-work jobs programs aren’t going to do the trick. The real problem is that job creators—and yes, that means businesses large and small, which women know aren’t economic villains, but vital to any recovery—are frozen and need certainty: certainty about their future tax contributions, their regulatory burdens and that energy prices won’t skyrocket.
These are the issues that will ultimately guide most women’s choice of candidate. The media may fall for attempts to distract and refocus on hot button issues and horserace coverage of political gaffes. But female voters won’t. Women know there’s too much at stake in this election.
Emily Wismer is a policy analyst at the Independent Women's Forum.