It’s no secret Republicans have a women problem. We’ve read plenty about women voters who supported President Obama 55-44, creating an 11-point gender gap. But we have paid scant attention to the wealth of Progressive women’s organizations that helped drive this victory, their vast funding capability, or the fact that they’re armed with a new science of politics.
The Obama victory owes a lot to its feminist allies, which identified unmarried women as a critical voting bloc and executed a strategic campaign to get them to the polls. Today pro-Democratic women’s groups dominate the Progressive political landscape, serving a critical role in growing government and keeping Democrats in power. The National Organization of Women (NOW), American Association of University Women (AAUW), National Women’s Law Center (NWLC), National Council for Research on Women, Catalyst, EMILY’s List, Women’s Voices Women Vote (or, Voter Participation Center), the League of Women Voters, Center for American Women and Politics, and Institute for Women’s Policy Research (to name a few) are research, grassroots, and fundraising machines.
In 2012 EMILY’s List, a PAC geared toward electing Democratic female candidates, raised more than $51 million dollars. Similarly Catalyst, which aims to put more women in positions of leadership, closed out the fiscal 2010-11 year spending more than $12 million on programs and grants. The well-known League of Women Voters invested $9 million to invest into programs and development. And in 2010 – during an off-year election – Women’s Voices Women Vote and WVWV Action’s combined revenue totaled more than $8 million.
And this money appears to be well spent. Women’s groups on the left have been pouring resources into sophisticated social science research and controlled experiments to determine best practices. In fact, fifteen years ago, political scientists Alan Gerber and Donald Green conducted one of the first real world field experiments with the League of Women Voters in New Haven, Connecticut. That’s why the LWV has known for seven Congressional cycles that canvassing is most cost-effective and phone-banking is ineffective at turning out voters.
In 2012 WVWV – a group that was only founded in 2005 – had the capacity to target 25 states in an effort to register more than one million unmarried women. They provided vote-by-mail applications, Public Service Announcements to share with friends, and online resources to increase voter turnout among unmarried women. And as the organization trumpets, “every VPC/WVWV program uses a randomized clinical trial design for evaluation.” Every program is scientifically tested.
Against this tapestry of Progressive organizations pouring millions into research and programs, what do we have on the Right? The reality is when it comes to securing women voters conservatives are out-numbered, out-researched, and outspent.
AEI’s Christina Hoff Sommers said it best at a recent IWF policy forum, “Conservative leaders and funders don’t take women’s issues seriously. They tend to treat women’s groups like the Ladies Auxiliary and women’s issues as a distracting side show.”
Sommers is right. Conservatives and Republicans have very little idea of what they’re up against or what to do about it. Most organizations on the Right test almost nothing, and certainly don’t support multiple organizations devoted to scientifically finding out what works with women.
The Right can count among their ranks exceptional individuals like Hoff Sommers, Diana Furchgott-Roth, June O’Neill, Carrie Lukas, and Kay Hymowitz, writing independently at different think tanks. There are a handful of women’s groups like the Independent Women’s Forum, where I’m the executive director, and our sister organization the Independent Women’s Voice, as well as Concerned Women for America, Clare Boothe Luce Policy Institute, Smart Girl Politics, and VIEW Pac, which raised a mere $346,000 during the 2012 election to help elect Republican women candidates.
What the Right lacks is serious interest and investment in finding out how to move more women to our side. If conservatives truly want to shrink the gender gap and win elections, women can no longer be an after-thought. Conservatives need to invest meaningful resources into the groups that are speaking to women. And conservatives must embrace social science research, digital communications, and boots on the ground to find out what works and with whom. At the Independent Women’s Forum and Independent Women’s Voice, we have run a host of randomized-controlled message and field experiments in several states with sound results. But so much more needs to be done.
Women need to hear a competing vision. When conservatives and Republicans unilaterally disarm and don’t bother to engage with more than 50 percent of the voting public, we can’t win. The Right must move beyond its fear of playing gender politics, and recognize that men and women might have different ways of looking at things. It’s not pandering: it’s simply choosing to engage.
Sabrina Schaeffer is the executive director of the Independent Women's Forum and a Forbes contributor.