Emotion is the key to getting out the undecided women’s vote. As much as that might cause frustration and angst among more informed voters, it’s a fact that must be faced.
A small focus group was held in Charlotte, North Carolina, Tuesday featuring “Wal-Mart moms.” The ten women were randomly selected by Wal-Mart as part of a project to take a closer look at swing voters during elections. The women were randomly selected but with certain criteria: they were voters with children at home 18 or younger, and they had shopped at Wal-Mart at least once during the past month. They could be single or married. They appeared to be similar to what’s been described as “Waitress Moms.”
Women are a key swing vote in November’s Senate election between Sen. Kay Hagan and her Republican challenger, N.C. House Speaker Thom Tillis.
These women don’t know much about the candidates or even the issues, but they will show up to vote. Their comments about the election campaigns so far focused on the negative advertising—an indicator of how emotions play with this group.
“Everything we teach our kids—to be supportive and don’t bash the other kids,” said one women in the focus group, as reported in the Raleigh News & Observer. “Then we hear it on TV. This one is bashing this one and this one is bashing this one.”
Issues? What Issues?
But what about the issues? Some have assumed and others have hoped that Obama’s failed agenda would be a factor in the November election. These women, however, don’t see him as influencing their vote. They have their doubts that Obama is a stronger leader, and, according to the Raleigh News & Observer, they used words like “giving up” to describe him. Still, they aren’t basing their votes in the Senate race on him. The GOP’s efforts to tie Hagan to the president has “limited appeal.”
While they don’t have a high opinion of Obama, they don’t think much of Congress either, though they admit to knowing little about its leaders.
The women said they were nervous about the economy and had little faith that politicians understand the struggles of the middle class. This is indicative of the views of the Waitress Mom. As I wrote in “How the GOP Can Attract More Women Voters,” this woman doesn’t trust government to understand her problems, and she “will be lost by a candidate who doesn’t have the ability to effectively communicate with her about things she’s dealing with every day.”
Some think that a female politician can best communicate with these voters, but the women in the focus group were conflicted on this point.
“I think it matters,” one of the women said. “It is a male-dominated world. There a lot of things that affect women differently—how we get paid, choices about our body. I agree that she (Hagan) is not an overly motherly figure. But there are things that women can bring to the table that I don’t think that men can truly understand.” Another woman countered, “I think there is a lot that women can bring to the table, but I’m not going to say I’m more favorable to this candidate because she is a woman. Girl power is great. But I am not going to say my vote is for her, just because she is a female.”
Undecided, Uninformed, and Unenthused
What will impact these women’s votes? With just a week until the election, they are still undecided. Despite the onslaught of TV ads in North Carolina, these women could not recall much about Hagan or Tills. They could only remember a few of the advertisements, but they did respond strongly that they were “bashing each other.”
When asked how they would cast their ballot today, the vote was 5 to 5.
“These are busy people whose lives revolved around their families and their jobs,” Rob Christensen writes, “watching the news didn’t seem to be a high priority, and they have only a passing interest in politics.”
“Two weeks away,” said one woman, “I have no idea what these candidates stand for. I have no idea about what they have done.”
Several of the women said they would be Googling for information on election eve, and one compared it to “cramming for a test.” That’s not a good sign, considering the cauldron of misinformation on the Internet.
Emotion Is Queen
This translates into one thing—voting on emotion, either positive or negative. Both sides can do it. The fact that some undecided voters know little about the issues explains how women interviewed after the presidential election in 2012 said they switched their vote at the last minute based on the more emotional social issues. While they initially said economics was most important to them and they were concerned about jobs and education, they voted contrary to those concerns.
While we want to believe that women are worried about their wallets, they don’t always vote that way. While we want to believe that women aren’t swayed by emotional messaging and war-on-women gobbledygook, they often are—even when they tell pollsters they’re not.
The fact is there is a group of undecided voters who aren’t informed, and they haven’t made much of an effort to be. I know this firsthand. A single mom, age 51, with three children in Charlotte recently lamented to me that she doesn’t know what’s going on in the election. I encouraged her to read about it. She sighed, saying she just didn’t have time. “Sure you do,” I said. She shrugged. “You’re right, but I just don’t really want to know. No one says anything positive anyway. It’s all so depressing.” She left after our conversation to do yoga and then head to the movies to see “Gone Girl” for the third time.
Send the Wal-Mart Mom Some Hope
So what is the GOP to do? As I wrote in a previous post,
The best way for the GOP to reach this woman is to show (not only tell) her that she is part of the American community and she is not alone, she doesn’t have to be afraid about the future, and there are people in her local sphere who will help her—through job opportunities, childcare, private associations—if only they are freed from the massive federal government to give her the attention, the care, and the support she really needs. This woman needs to see herself in the context of a compassionate, free America where people turn to one another and experience real opportunities rooted in hard work and individual initiative instead of relying on the empty promises of big government.
She doesn’t want to see wealthy candidates telling her what they can do for her (although she can be affected positively by wealthy candidates who do this, especially if their wealth isn’t their number-one characteristic in the eyes of the public and if they’re highly empathetic—think of Bill Clinton’s “I feel your pain” and you get the picture). She wants empathy, connection, and practical assurances that her future is bright and that she doesn’t need to be worried.
Hope is a powerful emotion. Show her what she has to be afraid of if Democrats stay in power, then give her hope with the conservative message. Some will scoff at this, saying that women need concrete policy answers and not abstract ideals. But this demographic isn’t aware of the issues and isn’t spending a lot of time contemplating policy. Republicans do have policy answers—expressed best in Sen. Mike Lee’s Conservative Reform Agenda—but when you’re dealing with last-minute, emotionally driven voters, you need to put emotion behind that message. Get women passionately involved, excited, and motivated.
Women are going to be getting it from the other side—most likely messages based on fear. If the GOP lets those emotionally driven messages stand without an answer, they will lose this voter. Counter those messages, by exposing the real source of fear and then offering a positive, hopeful message. That’s how Barack Obama did it with his “Yes We Can” message. But even better, that’s how Ronald Reagan did it with his “Nothing is Impossible” message.
Mitch Horowitz, author of “One Simple Idea,” says that Reagan was the first president to really embrace positive thinking (and he had the policies to back it up). In speech after speech, Horowitz says, Reagan drove home the idea that nothing is impossible. He was criticized for it by the elites, but people understood what he was communicating, and they found it uplifting.
The GOP can step back and wring its hands over the emotionality of voters, but they can’t bury their heads in the sand. Reagan didn’t. He embraced it. He had the ideas and the policies, but he knew how to communicate them powerfully, positively, and emotionally. If the GOP candidates want to win today, they need to do the same.