Political Hay

The Morning After the ‘War on Women’

A partial transcript from November 7.

By 11.1.12

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ROBIN ROBERTS, Good Morning America Co-Anchor: Good morning and hello to you on this Wednesday, November 7th. I'm Robin Roberts, and for those of you who went to bed early last night, it appears that Mitt Romney has won the presidential election.

Romney's victory is sending shock waves across the country. It certainly surprised many political analysts. What's most interesting is that exit polls show the decisive votes were cast by women voters.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, Good Morning America Co-Anchor: That's right, Robin, it seems hard to believe now. Back in 2008, Barack Obama captured 56 percent of female voters -- more than any Democratic presidential candidate since 1996.

And by Inauguration Day, his approval rating stood at 71% among women.

But that support was nowhere to be found yesterday, as Mitt Romney narrowly won the female vote, and with it the election.

For a look at what went wrong for President Obama, here's Jake Tapper in Washington.

JAKE TAPPER, ABC Senior White House Correspondent: Even as the election results continue to sink in, there seems to be an emerging consensus among political strategists that Democrats erred badly in their strategy with women.

Without the economy to run on, Democrats based their appeal to women voters on abortion and birth control, and it clearly backfired.

Throughout the campaign, abortion rights groups and the Democratic Party claimed that Republicans and the Catholic Church wanted to take away women's birth control and that it constituted a "war on women." A Planned Parenthood ad charged that "Mitt Romney would turn back the clock for women."

At the height of the hysteria, Texas Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee said, "I think the next act will be dragging women out of patient rooms into the streets and screaming over their bodies as they get dragged out of getting access to women's health care."

The Obama campaign also embraced the "war on women" theme. Health And Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius accused Republicans of wanting to "roll back the last 50 years in progress women have made in comprehensive health care in America."

On its official Tumblr, the Obama campaign posted an electronic greeting card that said, "Vote like your lady parts depend on it. Because they kinda do."

Another Obama ad showed a woman saying, "It's a scary time to be a woman."

Many of you remember Georgetown Law student and abortion activist Sandra Fluke, who complained at a congressional hearing that her Catholic school would not pay for her friends' birth control. She became a central component of the Democrats' campaign, even earning a prime speaking slot at September's Democratic National Convention.

Democrats seemed not to notice that their allegations just didn't ring true to many women or men, who don't equate women's health with abortion. And most voters understood that the real debate with the Obamacare mandate was about religious freedom, about whether religious institutions should be forced to pay for their employees' birth control and abortion-inducing drugs.

The public also saw politics in the controversy. In March, a public opinion poll by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that half of respondents said they believed the mandate debate was "mostly being driven by election-year politics."

Many Democratic strategists failed to understand that the idea that women don't have access to or can't afford birth control just didn't measure up with reality of a society swamped with free and cheap contraceptives.

But President Obama inexplicably continued to make the false allegation. In mid-October, he told a crowd at a campaign event at George Mason University, "I don't think a college student in Fairfax should have to choose between text books or the preventive care that she needs."

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: So, Jake, if I may interrupt, why the obsession with abortion and contraceptives?

JAKE TAPPER: That's a good question, George. These scare tactics certainly brought in a lot of money to abortion groups and energized their base. But Democrats seemed oblivious to polls that found abortion and birth control ranked last among issues most voters cared about.

A Pew Research poll found abortion and birth control ranked next to last on a list of 18 voter priorities.

A Kaiser Family Foundation survey found that less than one percent of respondents mentioned women's health or birth control as top election issues.

In the closing weeks of the campaign, Fluke and Planned Parenthood's Cecile Richards were campaigning full time on behalf of Obama but drawing sparse crowds. One event with Fluke drew just 10 people.

By mid-October polls began to show that the scare tactics just weren't working. The 20-point lead Obama enjoyed among women for much of the campaign quickly evaporated and polls began to show the race a dead heat.

Exit polls from yesterday showed Romney won among women because women cared about the same issues as men, most of all the economy. That spelled defeat for a president whose term saw the number of unemployed women rise by 450,000 and the poverty rate for women rise higher than at any time in 17 years.

Romney, meanwhile, kept his attention on the economy. But he was careful not to back off his pro-life position. A key part of Romney's pitch was that he would repeal Obamacare, including its contraceptive and abortion mandate. And only a few weeks ago, the president-elect reiterated his pledge to defund Planned Parenthood "immediately" upon entering office.

Robin and George, the Democrats' scare tactics on women's issues will be looked back on by political historians as one of the biggest strategic blunders in recent American political history.

Yes, the Democrats became defined by their preoccupation with abortion and birth control, and they paid a high political price for it. Some Democrats are already suggesting that the party enter a period of soul-searching about the wisdom of taking a position on abortion that's increasingly out of step with the electorate.

Back to you in New York. 

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About the Author

Daniel Allott is a writer in Washington, D.C.