McCain and Palin Want Women’s Votes But Do Women Want Them?

Amie Newman

Sarah Palin has been thrust into the spotlight. With unmarried women representing a crucial voting block this election season, it's easy to see Palin as a political pick. But will her policies actually help women or hurt them?

Women’s Voices, Women Vote (WVWV) are encouraging the unmarried women of America to unify around a set of core issues and vote. Through its "Unmarried Women’s Agenda" that includes equal pay, expanded health care coverage and investments in public education, WVWV is hoping to reach this particular voting bloc this election season. But why?

According to WVWV, unmarried women "have the potential to elect the next President."

In an email, WVWV writes that "While married women favored McCain over Barack Obama by 49 to 42 percent, unmarried women supported Obama over McCain by 60 to 30 percent…Numbering 53 million, these single, separated, divorced and widowed women represent 26 percent of the voting age population." Add to this that for the first time in history, almost as many adult American women are unmarried as married, and we can see why Sarah Palin may have been a political choice for the GOP. But was it the right one?

The GOP leadership and social conservative movement have thrust Sarah Palin, Republican Vice Presidential candidate, front and center into the spotlight. But, of course, this election – as any election – should not be about the candidates as much as it is about us – Americans on the receiving end of these candidates’ policy stances. With that in mind, there are a host of critical reproductive and sexual health and rights and family policies in play about which Americans deserve to know where each set of candidates stand; issues like access to health care, teen pregnancy prevention programs, federal funding of contraception, comprehensive sexuality education, equal pay for women, child care subsidies, ensuring access to pre-K for all and more.

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But instead of clear policy stances on these issues at the GOP convention or in the surrounding media attention what we have been privy to are endless distractions about Sarah Palin’s family, the personal matters and private choices Ms. Palin and her family have made over the last few months and a religious right bloc that has firmly cemented their support for said choices – support that falls in direct conflict with the rhetoric, agenda and policies they promote for the rest of American families.

Progressive bloggers and a handful of journalists have attempted to link Palin’s familial issues to concrete policy questions specifically related to women’s health and family support services including those issues above that "did not make the cut" at the Republican National Convention.

The McCain campaign has been vocal about Sarah Palin as a woman who "understands what women go through, the struggles they have, the issues they face every day." Positioning Palin as a hockey-mom/mother of a special needs child, the campaign believes they can win over undecided female voters with this message. But it seems that women are not buying it.

According to a recent poll, six in ten female voters in the U.S. see McCain’s pick of Sarah Palin for Vice Presidential running mate as driven by politics "rather than any sense of conviction on John McCain’s part that she has the experience and qualities to make a good vice-president." In addition, 56% of the women polled said they were "put off" by Palin’s legislative record as well as her stances on a range of moral issues. 

Women – undecided or independent, married or unmarried – don’t want to just be able to relate to a Vice President as if she’s their college roommate or friend next door. They want to know what a President and Vice President will actually do to help them with the "struggles they have" and "the issues they face every day." What kinds of issues?

The Economics of Womanhood

Women are still paid less per dollar than their male counterparts for work of equal value. This varies dramatically, of course, depending on what the color of your skin is, and what your ethnic background is. Women makes 77 cents for every one dollar a man in a comparable position brings in – and the amount decreases for African-American women and Latina women. With recent reports of a skyrocketing unemployment rate, and the fact that the majority of those in poverty are women and children, it is relevant, in fact critical, that American families know how a McCain/Palin administration would prioritize this issue. The Lily Ledbetter Act was strongly supported by Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton both. Yet John McCain voted against it. And while Sarah Palin has undoubtedly (and respectfully) become the success she is through hard work, we have yet to hear from her why the campaign she’s joined votes against ensuring equal pay for women. John McCain and Sarah Palin want women to "relate" to Palin and yet when it comes time to showing women that Palin is "just like us", their policy stances fail them.  A McCain/Palin ticket does not support policies that would allow other women – younger or older, married mothers, married women, single women – to be paid a fair wage. John McCain proudly stands next to his female running mate leveraging her gender as a political tool but where is his pride in ensuring economic equity for all other American women?

Family and Educational Services

Sarah Palin has made no effort to downplay her role as a mother to a special needs child. In fact, she placed it front and center in her speech at the convention and vowed to other parents of special needs children that they would "have a friend in the White House." This is another arena in which, presumably, the McCain campaign would have women relate to Palin as an every day mother. Again, the only way it really matters to most Americans that Palin relate to them is through the policies she would support as part of a McCain administration. Does Palin support access to programs that would help families of special needs children who do not have the resources her family has? Does she support access to education for all? Since Palin has not, as of yet, chosen to discuss the policy implications of much of her rhetoric, it’s hard to know.

We do know that she leads one of only ten states that do not fund universal pre-K for children, despite evidence that shows the overwhelming benefits. As Governor, Palin also cut funding to Alaska Family Services – an organization benefiting thousands of Alaskan families through a range of social service programs. 

We also know that John McCain has not supported legislation in the past guaranteeing paid sick days for American workers, or paid family leave so that young mothers and fathers can rely on an income and time with their families immediately after a baby is born (or so a family can care for a special needs child that may require extra time and attention).

John McCain has voted against funding health insurance for needy children arguing on the Senate floor that SCHIP – the State Children’s Health Insurance Program – should not be expanded to ensure that millions of uninsured children receive health care coverage. McCain opposed reauthorizing the program, as well, on the grounds that it was too expensive. 

He has a vague understanding that he "thinks he supports whatever the President supports" in regards to sexual health education (and the effectiveness of condoms in preventing HIV/AIDS) – he’s not sure that condoms stop the spread of AIDS and there should be no sexual health education in schools for young people. The McCain-Palin ticket supports abstinence-only programs that do not provide information to young people about how to prevent against pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections if they are sexually active.

Reproductive and Sexual Health Care and Education

Despite knowing almost everything there is to know about Sarah Palin’s 17 year old daughter’s pregnancy, discussion has rarely turned to how the reproductive and sexual health care of women and their families might fare under a McCain/Palin administration. John McCain has consistently voted against funding for teen-pregnancy prevention programs including one in 2006 that would have provided $100 million for pregnancy prevention in the form of education and information and one in 2005 that included education on emergency contraception and a requirement that insurance companies that cover Viagra also cover prescription contraception for women.  

Sarah Palin also opposes funding for teen pregnancy prevention, stating "the explicit sex ed programs will not find my support." As Governor, Palin also cut funding for the Covenant House, a program that includes transitional housing for teenage mothers and their babies, by 20%.

And, as Lynda Waddington notes on Iowa Independent, while Palin does not believe women should have access to abortion services even if they are the victims of rape or incest "her view…could be termed almost moderate when contrasted with the Republican Party Platform adopted…in Minneapolis" – a platform that presumably Palin and McCain support.

Looking For A Few Good Women’s Votes

Ultimately, women have the power to decide this election. 

In a national survey conducted by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner of 1356 women voters, between September 2nd and 3rd, and focus groups following Sarah Palin’s acceptance speech, the Republican ticket did not fare too well:

According to the Executive Summary, "…the selection of Palin is seen positively by women voters, it is also the case that her selection has given little lift to the Republican ticket and significant questions remain about her to be answered…Women voters, married and unmarried alike…wonder what she stood for and how she would address American’s most pressing problems." [emphasis mine]

Even more telling, the summary noted that after Palin’s RNC speech, unmarried women – those women who are crucial to pick up this election season – feel "she did not sufficiently address key issues in their lives."

As undecided and/or independent female voters, examine the issues in their own lives that demand attention from a new administration, they are simultaneously questioning what a McCain/Palin administration would offer.  In 2008 as in 2004 the women’s vote is, as Women’s Voices Women Vote writes, "up for grabs" though it’s clear, from what we do know about McCain and Palin, that many women are turned off already. It’s uncertain if the majority of women will buy what John McCain and Sarah Palin are selling. If the McCain/Palin duo wants to grab "the women’s vote", it’s clear their policies stances, not their gender make-up, will need to change to reflect this priority. 

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