Women held record gains, influence in election

On November 6, most Americans focused their attention on the presidential election results. However, many state and congressional races also will influence the next four years. The Gender Report has previously looked at the influence of women in politics, notably the lack of women in elected office.This year, those numbers are starting to improve.

A Washington Post multimedia project highlights the female senators and their projected significance in governance. Click the image to go to this project.

The 2012 election brought a record-number of women to office; 1 in 5 senators are now female (a gain of 3 seats), and the first Asian American, as well as openly gay, women were elected to represent Hawaii and Wisconsin, respectively. A Washington Post multimedia project highlighted the female senators and their projected significance in governance. In addition, New Hampshire became the first state to elect an all-female delegation, including the only female democratic governor. In the House of Representatives, 77  seats will be held by women (a gain of four representatives).

Presidential Influence

Despite their gains for their own seats and victories, much of the media coverage of the election instead focused on the influence of female voters on the top of the ticket. According to research from the Huffington Post, for the first time in research dating to 1952, a presidential candidate whom men chose decisively – Republican Mitt Romney – lost. While Obama’s victory was attributed partly to high minority turnout and support, he won the female vote 54 to 45 nationally and also in every swing state(compared to his 56 to 43 showing in 2008). In one Washington Post article, female supporters of Gov. Mitt Romney said they couldn’t trust him to be true to his campaign promises, an issue women voters consider more signficant than their male counterparts. Gallup polling has tracked the gender gap since 1952, and said this year’s gender divide was 20 percentage points, the largest ever using its method of calculation.

The Huffington Post called 2013 the “New Year of the Woman.” For the time being, the most attention will be on Sen. Elizabeth Warren and the role she will play in the upcoming deficit deliberations in Congress.

Also of note was the loss of two male candidates who made incendiary comments about rape and women’s health in the weeks leading up to the election. Rep. Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock, both republicans, made headlines for their separate comments about “legitimate rape” and abortions being god-sent, and were both defeated. Some analysts attribute the nationalized attention to their comments to the already debated “war on women” of the republican party.

Campaigns fight for women’s votes, shift to economic focus

As Mitt Romney moves into the position of defacto GOP nominee for president, the fight for the votes of women continues to wage in polling, pundit comments and attacks from both parties about who is the best candidate for women’s issues. Earlier campaign fighting focused on healthcare and the debate over contraception, with some labeling the GOP legislative agenda as a “war on women.”

This past week that fight took on an economic twist. Fact checkers quickly pounced on Romney’s statement in a speech to a women’s owned business that 92.3% of jobs lost since Obama took office were held by women. Later in the week, Romney paused when asked if he supported the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Restoration Act, which makes it easier workers to sue over gender pay disparity (earlier in the week, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, who Romney has expressed past support for, repealed the state’s Equal Pay Enforcement Act.) Romney’s campaign later said he “supports pay equity and is not looking to change current law.”

But Democrats had their own share of fumbles with women this week, despite polls that show President Obama leading Romeny with female voters by double digit margins. Democratic strategist and former Obama adivsor Hilary Rosen criticized Romney’s wife, Ann Romney, as not being in touch with the economic issues facing women because she “never worked a day in her life.” Later, Bill Maher took the sentiment a step further, saying on his HBO show “What she meant to say, I think, was that Ann Romney has never gotten her ass out of the house to work.” Maher recently donated $1 million to a pro-Obama super PAC.

Mrs. Romney referred to the Rosen’s statement as an “early birthday gift” and was quick to retort that staying home to raise her five children was her own choice. President Obama included a statement in a campaign speech saying there is no tougher job than being a mom. Democatic operatives also put distance between the party of Rosen, who later retracted her “poorly chosen” words.

Want more about women’s role in the campaign this week? Check out these other sources:

Gender Check 3/7/12 – Northeast

Gender Checks are quick examinations of gender representation in individual news articles for the purpose of discovering trends over time. Click here to read more.

Website: Boston Globe (Boston.com)

On Boston.com, one of the lead articles featured on the home page as of 10:20 a.m. (EST) Wednesday, March 7, was titled “Romney Wins Big, But Rivals Hang In.”

Here is its breakdown:

Subject:  Politics and Government: other domestic politics (Global Media Monitoring Project No. 4)

Word count: 1,359

Authors: Male (3)

Human sources (listed in order mentioned):

  1. Male – presidential candidate (from public comments)
  2. Male – presidential candidate (from public comments)
  3. Male – presidential candidate (from public comments)
  4. Male – political strategist
  5. Male – political science professor
  6. Female – voter at large
  7. Male – voter at large

Website: Open Media Boston

At the time of this post at 6 p.m. EST, the site had not posted new content since last week’s Gender Check.

Talk radio, women and the GOP: An extended Week in Review

Over the past few weeks, the Gender Report has been following the continued news coverage and debates on President Obama’s ruling and subsequent compromise requiring all insurance plans to cover contraception.

POLITICO - 3/1/2012

This week’s headlines on the issue gravitated towards comments from talk radio’s Rush Limbaugh.

On his show Wednesday, Limbaugh spoke about Sandra Fluke, the Georgetown law student barred from testifying at a Congressional hearing held by the Oversight and Government Reform Committee on the contraception ruling. Among other comments, he referred to Fluke as a “slut,” saying, “She wants to be paid to have sex. She’s having so much sex she can’t afford the contraception. She wants you and me and the taxpayers to pay her to have sex. What does that make us? We’re the pimps.”

The response to Limbaugh’s show was widespread and almost exclusively critical. Nancy Pelosi and other democratic leaders called the remarks “vicious attacks.” House Speaker John Boehner as well as the republican presidential hopefuls also spoke out against the language use. Friday, President Obama called Fluke, who told MSNBC the president “encouraged me and supported me and thanked me for speaking out about the concerns of American women.” As of this posting, seven advertisers had also pulled their support for the show.

Limbaugh eventually apologized for the comments as out of line and that he did not intend a personal attack. Some, including Rick Santorum and many democratic leaders, called the apology insincere. However, Limbaugh still stood behind his position against the contraception mandate, saying, “I think it is absolutely absurd that during these very serious political times, we are discussing personal sexual recreational activities before members of Congress. I personally do not agree that American citizens should pay for these social activities.”

This week’s provoking language, however, is causing concern for some Republicans already concerned about their party’s image with female voters. A recent poll released by the Pew Research Center found men, by 54 percent to 40 percent, favored the birth-control exemption for religious groups, while only 42 percent of women favored it, with 48 percent opposed.

Last week, several media outlets focused on Santorum’s remarks on the birth control debate, questioning if his support of the Catholic church would turn away potential votes. A Washington Post poll showed Santorum is less unpopular than his rivals for the GOP nomination, but other outlets cast his campaign and the party’s push as a whole to win women’s votes as less optimistic. A POLITICO blog post referred to Santorum’s campaign as a “perfect political punching bag” for Democrats, and an NPR story called him the  “candidate who personifies the gender gap in American politics.” An earlier Wall Street Journal article found Mitt Romney’s “milder” candidacy more appealing to female voters. Similarly, the Christian Science Monitor reported in mid-February that among Republican men, Santorum held a 10-point edge, while Romney was beating Santorum among Republican women by 9 points (quoting a CNN news poll).

A New York Times post noted that “comments by Mr. Santorum about related issues, including women in combat and the role of “radical feminism” in encouraging work outside the home… fuel the sense that the election could present women with stark ideological choices about their rights and place in society.”

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