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The truth about women voters

Is it women’s issues, or the bathing suit competition after all?

On Sunday afternoon, Melinda Henneberger cleared up some misconceptions about women voters. And she should know, as she has traveled the U.S. for about two years to try to find an answer to the question: How do women voters chose their candidate? Well, we didn’t have two years, so she boiled her findings into a dense speech at a political conference held by Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung in Berlin. In her travels, she has talked to “hundreds of ordinary people,” she says, and found some truths that contradicted her own beliefs. For example, she said that many women she met had never really discussed politics before, even not with their closest friends. So when she sat down with them, “it was like a dam breaking.” And in the flood of thoughts coming to the surface, some seemed to flow through many of the women she talked to.

Women generally vote for the female candidate

If it were that easy, Hillary Clinton’s campaign wouldn’t be in so much trouble right now, that much is clear. Instead, Melinda Henneberger stressed that it depends on the woman running whether she can build onto that gender-based voter base. Nonetheless, Clinton has used the argument that she is being pushed out of the nomination now on a “sexist” basis – even though, paradox enough, she has portrayed herself as the “better man” in this campaign, the better commander-in-chief even. Which raises the question: Does a woman have to stress so-called male qualities if she runs for a public office? Hillary Clinton certainly has, but maybe women who follow her will chose a different path.

The spouse of a candidate doesn’t matter

Not much needs to be said to prove this misconception wrong. This campaign season holds many examples of how important spouses have become. They often add a human, likeable factor to a candidate (which Tarah Donoghue spoke on at the same conference). On the contrary, they can also be damaging. This is apparently more of a Democrats-problem, with Theresa Heinz (wife of John Kerry) and Bill Clinton showing how a spouse can add a negative perception.

Women vote based on women’s issues

Easy one to pass off: Henneberger said that there was no such thing as a “women’s issue.” Women represent a rather accurate picture of what the population in general cares about in an election. The economy, the war, taxes, all these are “women’s issues” as much as general issues. The wage gap between men and women is of much less interest to female voters.

“Security moms” favored George W. Bush in 2004

The soccer moms who were worried about their safety swayed the vote for Bush in 2004, along with the value voters: That is an explanation often heard for that presidential election. Not true, says Henneberger, at least not in general. Security was a top issue for women who were leaning Republican, but, as she puts it, “they would’ve voted for [Bush] for a hundred other reasons.” Democrat-leaning women voted for Bush despite the war. A factor in that was a strong dislike of John Kerry, which takes us to the next truth about women voters.

Women vote on rational arguments only

Many women Henneberger talked to appeared to have voted against their own interests, or irrationally. But when they explained their choice, it often was based on a personal feeling about the candidate. Women did not vote for someone whom they felt they couldn’t trust. It was important for them to think the candidate was being honest with them. This, she said, applied to the population in general: if they feel a candidate is not being truthful to them, they don’t vote for that person even if many rational reasons would favor that.

Henneberger even compared choosing a candidate to choosing a date. You have certain qualities in mind that you want that person to have, but if you fall for someone, they might not have any of these “musts.” Honesty, Authenticity, - these traits appeal to women, and voters in general. Often, they’re much more important than specific issues.

As insightful as her speech was, it leaves us a little doubtful. Do Women voters don’t differ from other voters at all? Can they not be pinned on a planning chart and marked a sure bet if one supports “their” causes? To clear up this confusion, a second opinion should be solicited. And who better to consolidate on how women think than the stars of modern day phenomenon Sex and the City. They should know what women want in a politician, as they cover every other area of life with such wit and charme. What do Carrie, Samantha, Charlotte, and Miranda have to say on this matter.

Well, unfortunately the great clip of this episode, fittingly called “Politically Erect,” isn’t available anymore online (damn those copyright holders…), but let’s just say this: Charlotte always votes for (someone like) her father, Samantha goes by looks (”The country is better off with a good-looking man in charge! Just think about Richard Nixon. Nobody wanted to have sex with him, and in the end, we were all fucked!”), Miranda comes to the rescue of smart women (”I’m glad you three weren’t around during the original thirteen colonies,” she says to the other ladies, “I don’t think our founding fathers were very fuckable”), and Carrie? You guessed it: the bathing suit competiton! If it gets really close toward the end, Obama should pull this card out his sleeve - he’d win it for sure!

(Jessica Binsch)