Political pundits will tell you that 80% of campaign spending is wasted, but you never know in advance which 80% it will be.
Campaigns still do it all, from yard signs to TV advertising, online videos to constituency outreach. But can they do a better job at creating focus? Turns out, they must, especially when it comes to gaining the support of women. After all, since 1980 the number of women voting has consistently exceeded the number of men voting. In our last presidential election year, 2008, 65.7% of eligible women voted, compared to 61.5% of men.
The 2012 election has brought an intense focus on women's issues, with both sides claiming to be on the right side of a “war on women.” But what are women saying back? Do they see the leaders of either party reflecting their concerns?
Recent findings from 2012ConsumerStyles, Porter Novelli's survey of adults nationwide, show that women overall are in wide agreement that politicians do not understand what issues are important to them. This is a sentiment that cuts across both political and generational lines.
When campaigns start talking about women, birth control, contraceptive choice, and abortion access inevitably take center stage. But those are certainly not the only health issues that impact women. Women are making the primary healthcare decisions in two-thirds of American households – for their children, their partners, and their elderly parents.
As a result, women are evaluating candidates on more than just women's health issues. Only 36% of women agree with the statement: “I would never vote for someone who doesn't share my religious or moral views on women's health issues (such as birth control).” This brings both the perceived benefits and weaknesses of healthcare reform right into the campaign limelight and should be regarded as a heartening finding for campaigns that actually want to actually engage women beyond what have always been regarded as “litmus test” issues.
And engage they should, as a significant majority of women (60%) agree with the statement “Politicians don't understand what issues are important to American women,” while only 44% of men agree with this statement. This sentiment increases with age, as 56% of women 18 to 29 agree, rising to 57% for women 30 to 44, 59% for women 45 to 59, and a whopping 66% for women over 60.
So the millennial gal in Boston is just as dissatisfied as the Gen X mom in Cleveland or the Boomer retiree in Tucson. Since it's unusual to find such agreement across such broad spectrum of ideological and demographic difference, it's certainly time to pay much, much closer attention.
It's clear the campaigns, at this moment in time, are just not “getting it” as far as women are concerned. Whether Democratic, Republican, or independent, conservative, liberal, or centrist, most women, across party lines, agree that politicians just do not understand. It's a reminder that women are not a monolithic voting block on what has traditionally been “women's issues” alone. Sixty-five percent of Democratic women agree with this sentiment, and a majority of Republican women and independent women also agree (55% for both).
All of this “agreement” points to an opportunity to reset efforts now to listen to a particular constituency before the campaign heats up after Labor Day – an all important constituency that will make or break this election.
Tina Podlodowski is an SVP in health and public affairs at Porter Novelli, based in its Seattle office. She is also a former member of the Seattle City Council.