The now infamous “binders full of women” comment that Governor Mitt Romney made during the second presidential debate recently prompted Vice President Joe Biden to remark, “What I can't understand is how he has gotten in this sort of 1950s time warp in terms of women.”
What Biden is keenly aware of is the fact that the Romney campaign has struggled with women. It has made attempts to paint its presidential hopeful and his wife, Ann, as two people who women can relate to, but with varied degrees of success. But how the Romney campaign is courting women voters may indicate something even larger. In fact, it might be that the Romney campaign knew something all along that has taken the rest of those in media and politics longer to realize—that the next president of the United States will be chosen by women in swing states.
One of the Romney campaign’s first attempts at courting women voters was a pair of videos released in April and May earlier this year. The two videos focused on Ann Romney’s merits in an attempt to make both her and her husband more appealing to women voters. The videos tried to package her as a typical mom with typical problems. However, the picture they paint is of a life that many women today might view as foreign and antiquated due to, what Biden referred to as, its “1950s” nature, and one that many might be actively trying to avoid.
Ann was a stay-at-home mother and wife and in the video titled “Family,” she describes the difficulty of raising five boys. “It was hard to maneuver. I could do okay when I had the two. Three, not bad. Four it got to be a little much. And then with the fifth one, and Craig was my most active child, he was a handful,” she said. She goes on to say about Mitt, “He would be as mischievous, and as naughty, as the other boys. He’d come home and everything would just explode again.” In the video titled“Mother’s Day,” Mitt and Ann’s five sons describe themselves as being very rambunctious children. One of them says, “I remember my mom was always begging for us to be quiet.”
It is surprising that the Romney campaign would put out videos like this in an attempt to appeal to women voters—especially if they are trying to capture young women voters. These videos seem to go against the modern woman’s self-concept as a mother, a wife and a professional.
Especially now that women are earning more college and advanced degrees than men and are tending to put off families until they have established a career and are financially secure, the idea of staying home to watch after a sizable human herd while your husband is off at work all day just does not seem like the aspiration of many women. So do these videos actually go after young women voters, or are they simply appealing to the Republican base comprised of “family values” women? We can’t be sure. But what we do know is that on election day November 6, the vote of the modern woman might play second fiddle to that of the more traditional swing state woman voter.
While the news media keep highlighting the power of the women’s vote, they may be missing something that the Romney campaign understood from the beginning. At the end of the day, it doesn't really matter how the majority of American women vote, it only matters how the majority of American women in swing states vote. And while the average American woman might not relate much to those videos, the average likely woman voter in a swing state might relate very well.
Historically, women have favored the Democratic Party. A Pew Research poll conducted this year shows that the Democratic Party still holds a slight preference among women, with 52 percent of women identifying with the Democratic Party or leaning Democratic. However, that is a drop from 56 percent in 2008. And polls conducted throughout the election have consistently shown that women prefer President Barack Obama to Romney, but we have started to see a shift in this demographic in key battleground states like Colorado, Ohio and Pennsylvania.
Why does this political gender gap matter? The answer may be that women vote more. In most states, more women than men are registered to vote. And if 2008 is any indication of what this year’s voter turnout will look like, there will be 10 million more women than men casting a ballot for our next president. In key swing states, women hold the power, out-voting men in the hundreds of thousands. And this power may be shifting in Romney’s favor.
A USA Today/Gallup poll showed that Romney’s recent increase in favorability in swing states was in large part thanks to women. What’s interesting is that while the Romney campaign insists (even in a new ad) that what women really care about are jobs and the economy—trying to deflect from his more conservative social values which tend to alienate female voters—it may be these conservative social values that will give him the edge among women in swing states. The same poll showed that, when asked in an open-ended question to name the most important issue facing their gender in this election, a large majority of women in these key states named abortion. With abortion making the top of their issue list and them giving the slight lead to Romney, it would seem that Romney’s more conservative stance on abortion is appealing to them. It may be that the more conservative social values of women in swing states will be the deciding factor in this election.
So while those “Family” and “Mother’s Day” videos may have missed the mark with younger, more modern women, they may have hit the bull’s-eye with the more traditional and conservative female demographic that will decide this election. And the Romney campaign—whether intended or not—may have successfully tapped into this deciding demographic.
Camille Koué is pursuing her master’s degree in Communication, Culture & Technology at Georgetown University. She is focused on the intersection of technology, infrastructure and design and the effects these domains have on human relations, civic engagement and community development. A native of Oakland, Calif., she graduated from American University with degrees in Visual Media, Justice and Spanish Language.