Sex and the GOP: Republicans can't afford to wage a war on women

Until the Republican Party learns to successfully woo the female vote, women will continue to keep the party from power

Illustration by Bill Day,
Dr. James Boys
On 22 August 2012 11:10

Much to the chagrin of many in Europe, it must be recognised that the United States of America is a fundamentally conservative country. Conservative with a small ‘c’ perhaps, but a conservative country nonetheless.

It was founded following the most conservative revolution possible, has been presided over by a steady stream of conservative leaders (with only occasional breaks for progressive candidates), and has never fully embraced the social policies that are taken for granted in much of Europe. Indeed, it could be argued that there is no left wing in American politics, since so much of what the Democratic Party espouses (even under the supposedly ‘socialist’ Barack Obama) would not be out of place within David Cameron’s Conservative Party.

One of the areas in which the conservative nature of the United States becomes apparent is in the approach politicians take to women, and in particular the area of reproductive rights.

Abortion only became legal in all 50 states following the 1973 Roe v Wade ruling, which continues to divide opinion, even amongst women. In the UK, the right to an abortion is taken for granted and the role of government in the issue is simply not debated. It is a decision that is made by a woman in consultation with her doctor.

In the United States women’s reproductive rights becomes an issue on an all too regular basis at the national stage, with vague threats to overturn Roe v Wade, before slinking back to the extreme wing of the Republican Party to wait for another moment to try once more to reduce women’s rights. These attempts to wage culture wars repeatedly backfire, as in 1992, and lead only to Democratic Party victories, fuelled by women voters.

I mention this by way of addressing the idiotic comments made by the Missouri Republican Party candidate for Senate, Todd Akin. His remarks cast a shadow over the Romney/Ryan ticket. Not because they agree with him; they do not. They, along with members of the Tea Party, have made requests that he stand down. His refusal to do so ensures that he remains an embarrassment, not only to himself, not only to his party, but also to his nation.

But the Romney campaign is forced to continue to address the statement, which diverts time and attention away from the issues that the campaign really wishes to focus on: jobs and the economy. It further allows Democrats to portray Republicans as women-hating misogynists who would suppress women’s right, to keep their wives barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen. This is so far removed from the reality of most Republican women that it defies belief.

Akin’s remarks raise a series of questions, not least of which: what is such an ignorant individual (of either gender) doing running for office? The United States Senate is one of the most influential legislative bodies in the world and until his utterances, Akin was a likely member. Both parties must ensure that more is done to select candidates whose knuckles don’t drag on the floor when they walk.

Women are the great-untapped resource for the Republican Party. American women have been responsible for denying the Republicans the White House on several occasions. They were singularly responsible for keeping Bill Clinton in the White House, despite his repeated indiscretions. However, as a party, the Republicans appear unable to decide how best to court their vote.

For the Republican Party to win in November it needs to consider the gender breakdown in the United States:

- There are 157 million American women and only 151.8 million men.

- 46.2 percent of American women voted in the last elections compared to 45 percent of men.

- Only 43 percent of the female vote voted for John McCain compared to 56 percent that voted for Obama in 2008.

- Obama only carried 49 percent of the male vote in 2008

- Obama appears tied with Romney for the male vote, but is ahead by up to 20 percent with women.

When Republicans win the female vote, they win elections, as was the case in the 2010 mid terms. The remarks by Todd Akin this week, therefore, are detrimental on a whole variety of levels. They risk identifying the Republican Party with an anti-female agenda and continuing allegations that the party is engaged in a war on women in 2012.

This is exacerbated by reports that the Republican Party platform will oppose abortion even in cases of rape and incest. The inclusion of Paul Ryan on the ticket also raises concerns. As a Catholic, Ryan has voted repeatedly for measures in Congress that have won the support of the National Right to Life Committee Group. There are also strong concerns that the Party Platform that emerges at the Convention will severely restrict access to IVF treatment in the United States.

Akin’s remarks place at risk the potential of winning the Senate seat in Missouri that seemed eminently possible until very recently. With the withdrawal of party support, his chances appear doomed. Failure to win the seat places the Republican national strategy in jeopardy and will impact the party’s hopes of retaking the Senate in November.

Moreover, Akin’s remarks highlight a singular fact: Until the Republican Party learns to successfully woo the female vote, women will continue to keep the party from power. 

Dr. James D. Boys is a Contributing Editor to The Commentator. He is a Visiting Senior Research Fellow at King's College London, Associate Professor of International Political Studies at Richmond University in London and a Senior Research Fellow at the Global Policy Institute. Visit his website and follow him on Twitter @jamesdboys

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