Pollster Kellyanne Conway has decades of experience in political messaging. At a recent gathering of Republican women in New York City she gave a savvy blueprint for how the GOP can overcome the gender gap during presidential election years.
First she gave statistics: John McCain lost by 13 points among women in 2008; Mitt Romney lost by 11 points. Yet she said in 2010, more women broke for the GOP and in 2014 women favored Republicans by 4 points. She said that Republicans can win the White House next year if they’re able to connect with women.
A key issue in 2016 among women will be healthcare, said Conway, who referred to women as “chief healthcare officers of the home.” Women are seeing their families’ healthcare costs rise and the confusion and inefficiencies inherent in the Affordable Care Act. And indeed, polling from Gallup showed that pre-Obamacare a majority of Americans, as many as 69 percent, said they believed government should provide universal healthcare; as the law has been implemented that figure has shrunk to as low as 42 percent.
“People are starting to say, ‘That’s not fair,’” Conway said. “Women really have a nose for fairness. That fairness replaced equality is a victory for the Republican Party.”
Conway said Republicans should do a better job of speaking about economics in everyday terms about the affordability of food, fuel and other kitchen table issues. Romney spoke about macroeconomic terms and about job creation, yet Conway said just 7.25 percent of Americans are job creators and 7 percent are job seekers.
“The vast majority of Americans are neither job seekers or job creators, they are job holders,” she said. “They’re not listening to the jobs message. They don’t understand why they’re white knuckled at the end of the month.”
While Democrats have messaged around a so-called Republican “war on women,” Conway said American women aren’t so focused on these few wedge issues of reproduction and an unproven pay gap.
“I’ve never heard of men’s issues, why is that?” she quipped. “The assumption is that all issues are men’s issues.”
“People don’t just ask ‘Do I like you?’ they also ask, ‘Are you like me?’”
On the issue of national security, Conway said the message of peace through strength resonates with women.
“Security mom came back in 2014,” she said, pointing to the rise of ISIS as a sign of weakness from the current White House occupant. She said most women favor an increase in defense spending.
Conway pointed out that the Republican Party is more welcoming of diversity of opinion on the issue of abortion. She cited the fact that among the six female GOP senators, three are pro-life and three are pro-choice. Conway said most Americans are opposed to late-term and partial-abortions. By contrast, she said “The Democratic Party is an abortion one-size fits all message … Who’s really extreme? We have to get them to stand to account.”
She cited Cory Gardner, Thom Tillis and David Perdue as effective Republican candidates who “expressed their opinions crisply” on the issue of abortion.
“We believe a woman facing an unplanned pregnancy deserves our compassion and support, not our judgment and condemnation,” she said.
On the presumptive Democratic nominee, Hillary Clinton, Conway said the former Secretary of State and former First Lady had grown out of touch with the average woman, manifest by the fact that she hasn’t driven a car since at least 1996 and she charges $300,000 for a 25 minute speech.
“I’m not afraid of Hillary, I’m not,” she said. “She’ll never have that connective tissue with the average woman. She’ll never have that affability that voters expect … Hillary Clinton is shaping up to be the Mitt Romney of 2016, and I’m not standing in her way … It’s not enough to say she shares your gender and nothing else.”
Conway has what she calls the “living room test,” for presidential candidates, which is whether he or she projects enough warmth and charisma to enter living room television sets and relate to all Americans.
“People don’t just ask ‘Do I like you?’ they also ask, ‘Are you like me?’” she said. “We have always elected the president that’s more optimistic. We just like people who are sunny.”
She said too many women don’t get involved in politics in part because they feel intimidated. That includes the area of fundraising, where she said women make just 30 percent of political donations, and just 1.6 percent of American women have ever made any political donation at all.
“They say you can’t win if you don’t play. We’re not playing,” she said. “Men don’t need to be asked. We have a really hard time asking. That’s how we are, we’re very self-denying.”