The minute you spotted the Washington Post article headlined “Why the ‘War on Women’ Failed in 2014,” you may have suspected that what the authors were up to is this: assessing failure with an eye to dusting off the “war on women” for 2016.
If you suspected this, you were right.
Authors John McTague and Melissa Deckman, political scientists at Towson University and Washington College, respectively, do begin with the idea that maybe the “war on women” wasn’t as effective for Democrats in 2012 as was thought. Still, they seem to believe that tinkering with the "war on women" may save it. They write:
Though it is difficult to establish a connection between campaign rhetoric and voter behavior, the 2014 version of the “war on women” may not have benefited Democrats for this key reason: Democratic campaigns mistakenly conflated abortion and government-mandated insurance coverage for birth control, even though voters view these two issues through different lenses. In short, Democrats fundamentally misunderstood why there is a gender gap in American politics in the first place.
They are corect that the real issue underlying the “war on women” is big government vs limited government:
Attitudes about the size and scope of government — not abortion — are what drive the gender gap. Women are more likely than men to believe that the federal government should provide assistance to the poor, in part because women are disproportionately likely to be recipients of such government aid.
However, as the Udall ad referenced above illustrates, the rhetoric of the “war on women” often fuses the separate issues of insurance coverage for birth control with abortion rights, treating both as “culture war” issues, and this is not how most voters perceive the issue. …
Looking ahead to 2016, the better strategy for Democrats is to tie birth control access to broader issues of economic opportunity, pay equity, increases in the minimum wage, paid family leave, and other issues that tap into voters’ feelings about the role of government.
As the work of economist Isabel Sawhill shows, the ability of women to avoid an unplanned pregnancy is a powerful tool for reducing poverty. If Democrats can persuade people that insurance coverage of birth control is a matter of economic opportunity, they will tap into the very factors that drive the gender gap in American politics.
Looking ahead to 2016, I think that we predict with no fear of being proven wrong that Democrats will try to get some more mileage out of their beloved “war on women” strategy.
They will continue to try to push the contraception an “issue,” even though: (1.) The Republican Party doesn’t care if women use contraception and has no reason to want to take it from women, (2.) Many Republicans (such as Colorado Senator-Elect Corey Gardner) advocate making contraceptives that are now prescription available over-the-counter, and (3.) Republicans don’t have an anti-contraception agenda but do seek to uphold the religious rights of those who have religious reservations. This is a very small segment of the population.
If you persist in seeing contraception as a viable issue, you are either ill-informed or devious. Third alternative: You'd like to browbeat people who have religious reservations about contraception because you either feel it is a good political move or you don't give a damn about the First Amendment. Don’t expect Democrats to retire the contraception “issue.” They have two years to polish it up, and they may have very little to offer otherwise in 2016.
If, however, the GOP gets good candidates and the public remains frustrated after two terms of economic underperformance, the "war on women" will likely be as ineffective in 2016 as it was this year. But the GOP should be ready.