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The GOP's female problem

The GOP's female problem
Cartoonist Mike Luckovich on GOP lawmakers' treatment of women. (Mike Luckovich / Courtesy)

Growing up as a Jewish female in Baltimore City, being a Democrat was the only option. Wonderful Democratic politicians gave me incredible opportunities to work for them, but after two and a half years, I realized their solutions weren’t fixing my hometown’s problems. I began interning for the Maryland Republican Party to view the other side first-hand, and, feeling comfortable with its principles and philosophy, I joined their staff. I was immediately admonished by friends asserting the GOP was against everything I valued.

While that wasn’t true, Democrats successfully had created a public perception as the party that cared about women, minorities, the poor and middle-class families, the environment and everything the Republican Party is accused of being against. And as advertising executives will tell you, perception becomes reality.

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What I knew then and still know now is the problem with the Republican Party is not the actual values and solutions, but failure to properly brand and message them. The party that led the suffrage movement, fought for abolition, created the EPA, pushes for charter schools that help urban families and prioritizes policies to create more jobs and larger paychecks for everyone hasn’t lost its genuine concern for women and children, minorities, the environment, the poor or anyone else. With the exception of individuals like Ellen Sauerbrey in 1994 and Larry Hogan, and a few others here and there, the stoic-surfaced Republican Party simply fails to effectively convey to Marylanders across the state that in our hearts, we actually do care about everyone.

Prior to the 2018 elections, Maryland Republican leaders were cautioned the female vote would be critical and reminded of what happened next door in 2017. Virginia Republicans failed to improve their appeal to women; their losing gubernatorial candidate captured only 39 percent of the female vote — the same as the 2016 Trump campaign. Democratic gubernatorial candidate Ralph Northam won over female voters by 22 points, larger than Hillary Clinton's 17 point advantage in 2016. Mr. Northam spoke to women, which made a difference in his statewide win. This past election in Maryland, Mr. Hogan had his own research and strategic tactics for women, but female targeting and messaging was not properly set in place by GOP leaders for down-ballot races, despite the writing on the wall (and my advocating such).

Studies show women are the influencers in the home, making 83 percent of consumer decisions and 90 percent of health care decisions. Roughly 91 percent of women feel advertisers don’t understand them, and I believe this is similar in the political arena. As consumers and voters, women are the powerhouse, and Republicans should consider some 2018 key take-aways for future engagement of Maryland female voters:

  1. Women are the deciding voters. In every state senate district in Maryland’s 2018 General Election, women comprised the majority of the vote, and this should continue. But voter registration and other election data show the GOP has lost its appeal to non-conservative female voters, and women in Maryland who previously might have registered Republican are now preferring to register independent.
  2. Women decide differently. Women’s political decision-making mirrors their behavior as consumers. Compare elections to shopping: Women like to browse and take their time to find what suits them best, while getting opinions from others. Men generally are more practical shoppers; they know what they want and need, and make decisions for the immediacy. Women need more time to decide. When you speak to female voters is just as important as what you say.
  3. Women think differently. Political messaging to women must incorporate a strong emotional component. They earn college degrees at a higher pace than men and get more educated at all levels including master’s and doctorate degrees; they are smart, independent thinkers. Candidates need to earn their trust, and women tune in when messages integrate real life and emotional aspects of an issue. Storytelling, personal narratives and third-party validators are effective ways to appeal to women.
  4. Women use the internet. Women are more active online than men. But 64 percent of online moms buy things recommended from people they know personally or in their social circles, and 92 percent pass on information to their peers. While non-emotional or cookie cutter on-line ads can build name recognition, it isn’t the best way to win female votes. Candidates must build extensive social networks to reach women personally and properly.
  5. Women don’t like what they’re hearing. In Maryland, the GOP needs new branding and new messaging. Democrats moved from “liberal” to “progressive,” but Republicans stick to the long-outdated “conservative,” which doesn’t resonate beyond the base and doesn’t reflect today’s generation of practical, reasonable and diverse common-sense Republicans. And when it comes to messaging, the GOP has to stop being the “no” party, always against Democrat-sponsored policies, and instead provide creative and bold contemporary solutions on important issues.

While I have helped individual Democrat candidates around the state who were the right representatives for their own districts, I believe the Republican Party usually offers better solutions for Maryland families and businesses. The key to Republican victory going forward is working with female voters to develop how, when, what should be the message and brand for the party and its candidates. And if it wants to keep people like me in the GOP, its leadership needs to start being inclusive; not just thinking like and listening to women but, more important, more of them need to be women from across the Republican ideological spectrum.

Chevy Weiss (chevy.maryland@gmail.com) is a political consultant who has strategized campaigns around the U.S. at all levels of government; she previously taught political science for the Baltimore City Community College.

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