10:30 A.M. EDT
WASHINGTON FOREIGN PRESS CENTER, FPC CONFERENCE ROOM, 529 14TH STREET NW, SUITE 800
MODERATOR: Good morning, everyone. Welcome to the Washington Foreign Press Center. Today we have Tara McGuinness, who will be here to talk about the role of independents (inaudible).
MS. MCGUINESS: Thank you very much, and thank you all for being here this morning. As you’ve mentioned, my name is Tara McGuinness. I am the senior vice president for communications at a Washington-based think tank called the Center for American Progress, and I also run our advocacy arm. We have both a policy think tank and an advocacy arm that moves policy into the public debate.
And just by way of background for my experience with the elusive American independent voter, for the past 10 years I’ve been working on public policy campaigns both in the United States and overseas. I worked for the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs, working more closely with political parties around the world, on the institutions of how to engage the public. And I have also previously worked on presidential and House and Senate campaigns, actually on the road in Iowa and New Hampshire, up close with independent voters, watching some of the tactics that candidates, including John Kerry, used on the campaign trail.
So I’m speaking now also from my current experience at the Center for American Progress, where we look at these moments of elections as snapshots to raise important policy issues in a public debate. (Inaudible) tune into the media very briefly.
So when I speak today in terms of giving a brief overview and background for your coverage of the 2012 election, it comes from both a kind of a think tank, theoretical examination of this, a non-partisan targeting how you actually engage voters both in the United States and around the world, but also from the very practical standpoint of being at Farmfest in Minnesota where – working with candidates who are trying to meet farmers where they are at the largest events in one of the country’s central breadbasket states on how to speak to farmers that are independents. So what I’m going to share with you come from both a theoretical and the very practical exercises that have been part of my career.
So I want to address maybe these three questions and then pretty quickly get to what is the most interesting to each of you. First, who are these elusive independents? What do they look like? Do they matter, and how do they matter? And what role in particular will they play in the 2012 elections? Just first, independents, looking at the American electorate, I want to say it’s the number of people that are qualified as independents has actually changed over time. There’s a recent study that shows that it’s very possible that in 2012 we will have the highest level of self-ascribed independents in American politics since 1976. This number of who’s self-identified, when pollsters call them, as independents does go up and down both, in particular in election years – presidential election years, certainly the number goes up. And we are at this particular moment in time at a very high level of self-described independents.
I want to --
MS. MCGUINESS: Yes.
MS. MCGUINESS: (Inaudible) study. There’s a (inaudible) poll produced by the Third Way that mentions (inaudible).
But I want to say a few things about the independents because people use this term quite broadly. And I think today, I would like to talk about independents, people who when you call them and ask them what political party they affiliate with, they say, “I’m independent.” The difference between people who say they’re independent and people who actually – whose voting patterns indicate that they are independents. And in particular, Obama won with a large number of independents in 2008. And I want to talk about these Obama independents because they’re actually different – look a little bit different writ large from McCain’s independents (inaudible) people who said they were independent and voted for McCain.
So let’s just kind of de-mystify independents for moment. There is a fair amount of data to say – at this moment in time, Gallup has a survey that says 40 percent of Americans say that they are independent. That does not mean, to be clear, that 40 percent of voters say they’re independent. So this is people who say they vote independent but, in fact, if you look more closely at it, independents are less likely to vote than people who say they are Democrats and people who say they are Republicans.
QUESTION: They are less likely?
MS. MCGUINNESS: They are less likely. So once you get inside that, you have to say, “Who are the independents who actually vote?” That’s a smaller share of the American electorate.
Many pollsters and analysts believe that actually inside the group, that 40 percent of people who say they’re independents, is a much smaller group of people who actually aren’t Republicans or Democrats. In fact, if you go one question further and say, “Okay, you’re an independent, but do you lean Republican, or do you lean Democrat? Once you ask that question, you find that basically probably only 40 percent of the people who say they’re independent don’t lean Democrat or Republican one way. So half of the people who say, “I’m an independent voter,” actually 90 percent of the time vote for Republicans or 90 percent of the time – basically what I’m suggesting is that half of independents have political affiliations but like to think of themselves as independent.
There’s a much smaller share of independents who actually vote frequently who voted for, for example, George Bush in 2004 and Barack Obama in 2008. So that in fact, when you write about this and in your coverage, you can go off the Gallup poll, “Wow, almost half of Americans don’t have a party affiliation.” It’s not really accurate when you dig a little bit deeper. Half of Americans like to think of themselves as independent but have voting patterns that demonstrate that probably 15 percent of Americans really do vote for Democrats sometimes and Republicans other times.
So let’s talk a little bit more in general about the characteristics of these independents who are real independents. We frequently in the kind of political set refer to them as swing voters, because this means not only do they self-ascribe as independents, but they have to have a habit of voting. So we’re not paying as close attention to the habits of people who say they’re independents but don’t vote.
So inside this group of swing voters, in general, they are more frequently male, they are more frequently white. They are not as engaged in the day-to-day details of politics as partisan voters, people who ascribe to the Democratic Party or the Republican Party. Now, what I’m suggesting is true in general over a pattern of years of independent voters. It is not necessarily true for Obama independents.
So let’s talk just for a minute about the self-ascribed independents who voted for Obama in 2008. Obama independents are more female than male. If you look at the independents who voted for McCain versus the independents who voted for Obama, the Obama independents, unlike independents writ large, were more female. They skewed a bit younger. They were not as white as McCain’s – the independents who voted for McCain.
Nearly half of the people who voted for – the independents who voted for Obama didn’t vote for Bush. It’s kind of interesting to think about who would pull the lever for George Bush at the height of the Iraq war and go in and pull the lever for Barack Obama, who made his candidacy early on on being against the Iraq war (inaudible). This is a puzzling conundrum.
Independents, in general, tend to be much less ideological when it comes to general party patterns. They sometimes have combinations of ideologies that are held by both parties. So many independent women voters tend to be fiscally conservative but socially liberal on issues such as marriage, equality, LGBT rights. And it is in this place where this small group of people who switch from cycle to cycle in who they vote for, in fact, identify with core ideas of both or either political party and frequently make their judgments about candidates based on who they think will be more like them, will represent them most, and are very late in the process of making up their decisions, making up their minds to vote.
So just looking inside – back to this question of how important are independents in elections, as independents go, frequently elections go. So when the Republicans took back the House of Representatives, they won a majority; 55 percent of independents voted with Republicans. When President Obama won the election, he won a majority of independents. And so to the question of is it important where people are, they frequently – especially in close elections, you could not win an election in the United States simply targeting independent voters, but frequently you cannot win an election without targeting some independent voters. So they play a critical role, and that has been the case and I that will continue to be the case.
I just want to focus us in today on what’s the state of independents right now. It’s very early in the 2012 presidential race. There’s a new poll only of independent voters that came out last week that basically has independents in a dead heat tie, 39-37 for Mitt Romney and President Obama. So just to give you a sense of where they are today in a national poll, that’s the snapshot.
If you look more closely at state polls, which I think at this moment in time are more telling, the President has had a lead with independents in state polls. Mitt Romney has had a very difficult time with independents in places like Florida and Ohio and Pennsylvania. In large part, I think if you look at the way that the Republican primary has gone, Mitt Romney has been targeting – speaking to Republican primary voters, who look very different from independent voters. And for that reason, it may be hurting him at this moment in time with independent voters. So that’s kind of a schema of this mystical independent voter.
In terms of tactics – and then I want to just open it up to questions. In terms of tactics that campaigns use to target independent voters, there’s a broad number of tactics that are used. One of the things about independent voters from a tactical standpoint that’s very difficult for campaigns is they’re not paying as much attention as other voters. Independent voters make up their minds later. A very small percentage of the news that they read is hard political news. So independent voters are as likely to find out about a candidate’s position from late night comedy or what they may see on the internet as they are to read the details of policy platforms. This is true of voters writ large, but this is in particular true of independents.
So for a campaign, this presents a formidable challenge. Step one is have people hear you, and step two is have people like you. So finding out where independents are and where they live – and like I said, candidates and campaigns frequently target people based on what they know voters like. This voter really cares about the economy. This voter really cares about women’s issues. This voter really cares about children. Independents in particular are very hard to pin down about what they care about, and so it’s not as easy to target them based on a single issue, because frequently they have – they hold issues that are ideologically in one or both camps.
So the cost of targeting an independent voter through making direct phone calls, reaching them at their door, reaching them through television advertising, is likely to be higher than the cost of a clear Democratic voter, a clear Republican voter. You know where they are. They’re registered with the party. They’re on a party list. You can find them. You know the issues that, in general, Republican Party voters care about. You can tell them about that. You can make speeches about that.
Independents, on the other hand, are reached with a much less precise set of issues that you could target them and a much precise – much less precise set of topics. In particular, there’s a fair amount of research showing that the kind of quality and character of leadership of, to some extent, less clear policy touchstones are what resonate in particular with this group of people.
So then you’re getting into the category of how do you demonstrate leadership, how do you demonstrate you’re on the side of people who are not paying a ton of attention. And this becomes more of a challenge. This, when you think about it, then makes it easier to understand why someone would vote for President Bush and President Obama that, in fact, the characteristics of leadership and judgment rather than a set of policies which are quite opposite are what spoke in particular to these particular voters.
So I think that’s a good jumping-off place. I think maybe I’ll leave it there and then open it up to questions, and I’m happy to come back on any parts of this in greater detail.
MODERATOR: And please state your name and news organization before asking your questions.
QUESTION: Good morning. My name is Dagmar Benesova. I’m from World Business Press Online News Agency. Thank you very much for coming. I have two questions. First, you mentioned at the beginning that in (inaudible) the high number of independents.
MS. MCGUINNESS: Yeah.
QUESTION: Could you elaborate or could you mention why it is so? What are the reasons why the number of independents are increasing?
MS. MCGUINNESS: Sure.
QUESTION: And one other question. I just would like to verify I heard it correctly. You mentioned that in 2008 with the Obama independents that it’s very likely to have the independent who voted for Bush voting also for Obama.
MS. MCGUINNESS: Yes.
QUESTION: How the independents who voted for Bush voted for Obama?
MS. MCGUINNESS: Yes.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MS. MCGUINNESS: I know, it’s hard to --
QUESTION: I just want to be sure if I heard it correctly.
MS. MCGUINNESS: I understand that it’s hard to imagine how that happened. And in fact, I have some good charts which I can send to you that break it down more precisely. Yeah, nearly half of independents who voted for Obama – but it basically breaks down – there are a lot of independents who voted for Obama – into thirds, who half voted for Bush. The other half either didn’t vote or voted for someone who wasn’t Kerry. And then about 25 percent voted for Kerry.
QUESTION: And I know it’s maybe difficult to explain, but please tell me what was the main reason why they switched their decision. What was the (inaudible)?
MS. MCGUINNESS: That’s a good question. I don’t think I can say definitively, but I think as a – my analysis would be the driving course of the economy had a huge role. In particular, if you look at Obama independents, who as I said are a little different from independents at large – that means the independents who voted for Obama – they were more intensely impacted by the economy than Democrats or Republicans. When you ask them, they say this was a serious hardship. I think that was something that was true before the economic crash. And so I think if you look, charting from Lehman Brothers, that many people who were economically disaffected and voted for George Bush based on maybe national security or leadership issues, when the state of the economy turned, their number one issue became the economy, and that on that issue they have a greater sense that Obama would represent them on the economy.
Now back to your first – your first question again was?
QUESTION: What is the reason why the number of independents was – is still rising?
MS. MCGUINNESS: Right. So I mean, again, I want to say the number of people who, when you call them and ask them and say they’re independent goes up and down. So I don’t think we should be too – it’s not very scientific. If you ask me, I mean, I’m a Democratic voter. I have voted for Democrats most of my life, with rare exceptions. But if you ask me, “Are you a conservative, are you independent, are you moderate,” I think Americans in general like to think of ourselves as independent people. From the Declaration of Independence to our Independence Day, this is a cultural characteristic as well as a political characteristic. And so I think one of the reasons you see a higher number of people say they’re independent, even though they may know their whole life they just vote for Republicans or their whole life they just vote for Democrats, that is as much kind of a cultural statement as it is a direct political statement.
Now, there is a fair amount of analysis to show that when partisanship and political gridlock and attacks happen, there is an increase of people who say I just don’t like either of those parties; those political parties are really out of step; they’re attacking each other; they’re not talking about what matters to me, which is how I’m going to put food on the table and how I’m going to pay for my child’s education and what our future is going to look like.
And I think if you look at this moment in time, post a Citizens United ruling, we’re talking about a trillion dollars so could be spent in television advertising this year with a vast overwhelming majority of which just so far in the Republican primary has been negative television advertising, and when things get very negative, people take it out on both political parties. And so I do think one of the reasons you see this uptick in this particular moment is things are very negative, and the net result is people wash their hands and prefer to say, “No, no. I make up my own mind. Both of these political parties are really – it’s just politics. I’m an independent. I’m not (inaudible).” So I think the overwhelming negativity is one important part of it.
I would also say press harder on this act about whether that really means that most people are – 40 percent of people are voting as independents. It means they’re affiliating – they’re describing themselves as independents, but that they are likely to keep the voting patterns that they’ve had.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MS. MCGUINESS: Yeah.
QUESTION: Kathleen Gomes. I’m the correspondent for a Portuguese newspaper called Publico. Would it be accurate to define independents as the center of the electorate? Because that’s what you said, right? There’s conservatives, independents, and Democrats? (Inaudible.)
MS. MCGUINNESS: Yeah.
QUESTION: Or liberal?
MS. MCGUINNESS: This is a very interesting question, partially because independents don’t sit neatly on an ideological team. I think for easily categorizing them, you have the left and the Democrats and the center and the right. But in fact, when you look at independents – so, let’s look at the independents who voted for Barack Obama and the independents who voted for McCain. The independents who voted for Barack Obama, if you asked them, “Are you moderate, are you conservative, are you liberal?” They say, “I’m moderate.” If you ask the same question of McCain’s independents who are (inaudible), they would say they’re conservative, that they – that to some extent, independents are – you could put them on that spectrum, but the truth is that they kind of reside in ideas and policies that are left. Independents are very – are relatively populist. They think that taxes on the rich should be higher. But they also think we should have a smaller government.
So it’s hard to say that that person – there’s a fair amount of duality to this, but that’s not necessarily moderate. That’s kind of a little bit liberal and a little bit conservative. And I think many independents also are libertarians, which you could actually, in some ways, put on the spectrum outside of conservative. So this is to say, sure, in general, we tend to lump them into the middle, but it’s not necessarily as very accurate into where if you took one independent out and asked them about their policies, you might find actually that they think of themselves as moderate, but what they actually – on different issues and candidates – affiliate with are kind of both left and right.
One of the interesting features of this moment in time is that the Republican Party and the Republican base is farther to the right of the Republican Party over history. So for example, Ronald Reagan today, based on the policies that they’re holding, would never be elected as the Republican nominee. He was, at moments, pro-choice. He supported labor unions. He would not make it through. So the Republican Party base has actually moved quite far to the right. The Democratic base, you could argue, has even dragged – what a Democrat today is in the Senate is way farther to the right than what a Democrat was in the ‘70s, so that to some extent the middle is not as static – a static place.
QUESTION: And I know that some researchers, like Ruy Teixeira, from the Center for American Progress –
MS. MCGUINNESS: Yeah.
QUESTION: -- make the distinction between independents and swing voters. So the swing voters would be the people who are not – the voters who are not affiliated with or lean towards any of the parties. Would this be an accurate way to differentiate those – I mean, independents from swing voters?
MS. MCGUINNESS: Precisely. Like, my colleague Ruy sure has done a fair amount of research. If we say Gallup says 40 percent are independent, then you shrink that down and you look honestly among those people, 33 percent of them vote, and then among those who vote, moving out half of them historically have a pattern that’s one political party or the other, this group that’s left is people who actually vote – who vote for different parties, and that’s your swing voter. And that’s sort of Ruy’s analysis. And I think that’s relatively useful and definition useful.
MODERATOR: All right. We’re going to go to New York for a moment and see if any journalists there have any questions. New York? All right.
PARTICIPANT: We’ve got no questions from New York.
MODERATOR: All right. We can come back, New York, if you have any questions. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: I have a question.
MS. MCGUINNESS: Yeah.
QUESTION: How do you think Romney will do – should do in order to the get the attention of independent voters in this election?
MS. MCGUINNESS: I think this is the big question that’s like the question of the day and of the week in particular. Mitt Romney, who was a governor of a relatively moderate state in Massachusetts, has run – in order to win the nominee – has run a very conservative campaign. Just today for example, he’s going to visit the NRA. Previously in his time as governor, he said, “The NRA doesn’t like me very much.” He’s moved his stance on gun control in an effort to win over conservative voters and conservative organizations. I think the question will be in these moves that he made in particular attacking women’s groups and Planned Parenthood, attacking immigrants and seems very conservative on immigration policies and shifting his stance on things like the – kind of gun control, which he did quite publicly for the past year, whether he will be able to – whether he will stick with that or moderate that for the general election is I think a formidable challenge for him. As I mentioned earlier, he’s not doing very well with independents right now. It’s no surprise. He hasn’t been talking to independents. He’s been very deliberately talking to Republicans.
But it’s 2012. When you talk to Republicans, independents can hear you, and they can hear you attacking these things on TV. I think this is one of the biggest questions that there is for Latinos. John McCain pulled in 30 percent of Latino voters, many also fall under the category of swing voters, and Mitt Romney is pulling with 15 percent of Latinos – 15 percent of the (inaudible) Latinos. That’s devastating. George Bush won – had almost three times that much when he won in 2004 so that the ability to segment how you speak – this is a fundamental challenge for candidates – how you speak to voters and make sure you’re talking to the base of your party and independents is really the game of the general election, that when you speak to independents, your Democratic base voters or your Republican base voters can hear you also. And it’s been well documented this is a problem for Mitt Romney – is being all things to all people depending on who he’s in front of.
I don’t know if you guys saw there’s a Saturday Night Live sketch from last weekend where Romney is standing in front of an audience of Latinos and saying, “I am your people,” and then standing in front of a business leader’s audience – and I think this characteristic of being all things to all people is something that really turns off independent voters. They’re looking for leadership qualities. They’re looking for – sometimes they don’t care about what your policy is. This explains how you can vote for Barack Obama and George Bush. They want to show that you are a leader who has a strong vision and will convince people and will carry people. And so often the impression of catering to different audiences or changing your positions is something that really turned independents off of John Kerry in 2004 and could be a problem for Mitt Romney.
QUESTION: And do you know – among Latinos, do you know how many of them are independents?
MS. MCGUINNESS: There’s like, varying studies. In the Obama independents, there are a fair number of Latinos, but I don’t have any independent samples to have a high enough number of Latinos in them, but I’m happy to check in also with my colleague Ruy Teixeira who’s done some – who should look inside some larger Latino studies and see what – well, inside those studies of Latinos, whether people describe as independent. But certainly, there are Latinos who are independent that – not for that majority, either of Latinos or of independents, but there is overlap (inaudible).
QUESTION: Thank you.
MS. MCGUINNESS: Yeah.
QUESTION: May I ask, would it be also appropriate to describe independents also as voters who are maybe from (inaudible) simpler educational (inaudible) and some difficult economic (inaudible)?
MS. MCGUINNESS: I mean, the thing about independents – and I would say this especially if you report about them – is to be very thoughtful about how you generalize the independents, because they’re not all the same. In fact, there are some studies which break independents into four different categories – or (inaudible) voters into four different categories – and one of those categories is more educated. So I think I would encourage you, when you’re talking about independents, to be as (inaudible) as possible. Independent voters in Florida may not look the same as independent voters in Ohio. And as I suggested, at any given moment, they may not look the same as they did in 2010, 2004. They have common characteristics, but that to some large extent – they’re important because elections in the United States are close. They’re frequently close.
And so when portions of each of these groups, whether it’s Latinos or women or independents – is important, but none of them alone is the whole ball of wax. You have to be able to communicate with the general electorate. That is true probably of Ohio independents if you are looking at the Senate race, but that is not something that you could say about independents across the country. It’s just such a big country and it looks different in different places.
QUESTION: Stephen Kaufman. I’m with IIP at the State Department. I was wondering if you could talk about maybe some of the drawbacks of being an independent voter. What comes to my mind is if you live in – if you’re a registered independent and you live in a state where it’s a close primary, for example, then you’re limited into being able to pick people who would run in the general election. And I didn’t know if you could talk about that or other drawbacks, but the downside of --
MS. MCGUINNESS: The downsides of being an independent voter. That’s interesting because I always think, because they make such an impact, there’s like a small industry, right, to precisely calculate who are these independent voters and to find them and to communicate with them from both campaigns. So I always think of them as getting a disproportionate amount of attention to perhaps their numbers in the electorate. I don’t know if that is or isn’t true.
On the drawback side, that’s really a 50-state question, because in 50 states and then in some states based on the rules of the political party, independents can or can’t vote in primaries. I would say there were several efforts to get independent voters to vote in the Republican primaries just this year in Michigan and others so that I think it does – frequently the case where they can as it is where they can’t, is my impression. But off the top of my head, I don't know all of the 50 states.
And I think the other piece as independents is although you’re targeted in a much more general way, they’re not targeted in the kind of communication with party cadres as you would be if you were a Republican Party member or an NRA member or associated with any affinity group that is kind of known to be frequently voting for the Republican Party or the Democratic Party. So in that way, independents don’t get the kind of email communication, the kind of online targeting, or the same sort of issue targeting that tried and true members of the Democratic or Republican Party get from their party activists and leadership.
MODERATOR: Let’s go back to New York. (Inaudible) has any questions? New York, any questions?
MS. MCGUINNESS: A little bit louder, please.
MS. MCGUINNESS: That’s a very good question, which I don’t know the answer to. The tricky thing about a third party in the United States is – and the challenges that independent – I mean, let’s just go back to what I said earlier, which is that independent voters don’t necessarily have a lot in common with each other. They don’t necessarily have a lot in common with an ideology. They have pieces of different ideologies.
So from a pure organizing standpoint, if you wanted to create a third party in the United States, I think you’d be as likely to create a Libertarian, right-of-conservative party, or progressive left-of-Democratic party. That would be an easier organizing feat than to try and organize people who don’t like the idea of being affiliated with a political party.
I don’t want to say it’s like organizing anarchists, but it’s like when you go about setting a vision and an ideology and rallying people around it, that’s kind of the opposite of how most independent voters are. They rally around leaders but don’t like the idea of being affiliated with a clear, stringent vision. So that seems unlikely to me. I think if you look at the energy around Ron – the support for Ron Paul, who does draw quite heavily from independents but also draws heavily from Republicans and Democrats, finding people with a more tight libertarian ideology seems more likely for a third party route than to kind of organize people who say, “I don’t like people who are organized around one idea.”
Does that make sense?
QUESTION: I have a question from New York. My names is Fernando Moreira Dos Santos. I’m from O Globo, Brazil. And my question is this: Are there any Democrat in proposed Senate votes? For the Congress as well. I mean even if Senate voted to, for example, Obama this year, does that mean that he will be more prone to voting for representatives from the Democratic side as well?
MS. MCGUINNESS: That’s an excellent question, and the answer is not necessarily. There are many – we call – sort of in the pollsterstakes, we call this person a split-ticket voter. You do frequently have the situation where people pull the voting lever for Chris Christie and Barack Obama, or – I worked in 2006 for Senator Amy Klobuchar from Minnesota. At the same time, Tim Pawlenty, who was a Republican Party candidate, ran for governor of Minnesota. Senator Klobuchar, who’s a Democrat, won her seat. But also, I think a third of the voters who voted for her also voted for the Republican governor. This is more of what we identify in the political lingo as a split-party ticket, but there are many people who do that.
In general, the parties work to try and create alignment with the idea that a big Obama turnout in Pennsylvania would help move House-elected officials who are Democrats in Pennsylvania is frequently too – true. Voters – more likely than not, the single driving factor of what makes you likely to pick a candidate is their party affiliation. That is still the strongest thing in predicting how people vote in the country, but there are some people who – and this is a different kind of form of swing voter – who split their ticket. So I would not necessarily predict that an overwhelming majority of people who pull the lever for a Democrat or a Republican also pull the lever for lower selected candidates in that way.
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: I don’t know if you mentioned this. And if you did, I apologize if I didn’t hear it. What’s the proportion of independent voters within the general electorate?
MS. MCGUINNESS: So people say it’s more like a third. I mean, this goes back again to the question of – party affiliation goes up and down; so does independent affiliation. If you include the people who refer just only to their self-ascribed piece, it’s probably about a third.
QUESTION: And which hit is this so-called war on women right now? What is – are they actually – as a party, is actually fighting for independent women? Is that what they’re doing, or --
MS. MCGUINNESS: I mean, the parties are fighting for independent women. They are fighting for women. Women make up a huge share of the electorate. Like I said, the independents who voted for Obama were overwhelmingly women. And if you look at polls from January, for example, until today, the President has had a complete change in his job approval, where a few months ago, with women, the job approval was down. Through this fight about contraception, when many Republicans at the national and state level blocked the implementation of the – tried to block the implementation of the President’s healthcare bill that would provide free preventive care, including things like mammograms and pap smears and contraception, that through the course of that fight, women checked in, and you had a dramatic uptick of support for women for the President.
And so I think the parties are seizing on this because women will make a huge impact in the 2012 elections. At a substantive level, the policy agenda of the President has – a lot of his signature polices like healthcare have a dramatic impact based on gender. We had a very – the existing insurance system was very strongly biased against women. We’re more able to be charged, for example, up to three and four times for health insurance as men. So these are important parts of the President’s policy agenda that he’s very likely to tout as a way to communicate with women voters. But they’re discussing it and fighting about it because there are some real substantive policy differences.
I would sort of also direct you – I don’t know if you guys have looked closely, but when you had a huge sweep of statehouses towards the Republicans in 2010, the first agenda in many of the state legislative bodies was to target Planned Parenthood, one of the largest women’s organizations, and the Republicans won on a platform of addressing the deficit and shrinking government, but the first act of business in many, many statehouses was to go right at the question of choice. In one year, 1,000 bills in 50 states have been passed limiting existing policies for women to be able to access abortion or receive care. And so to some extent, this is a strong policy difference between the two parties. And for that reason, I think it will be at the center of communications with both independents but also with Democrats and Republicans.
MODERATOR: Okay. Are there any more questions?
QUESTION: I have one. I am Jenni Hakala. I write for a Finnish newspaper. It’s a political paper called Democratic. And I was interested in your views on the fact that since the Republican primaries started, it’s been said that Mitt Romney would be the worst enemy for President Obama. And now it seems that he’s the one who’s going to be the adversary. Do you have any comments on that? Is it because of the economy or is it because of this independent voter scheme that you’ve been explaining to --
MS. MCGUINNESS: I would say there’s two reasons for that. One is that when Mitt Romney started to run for president, I think it wouldn’t have been as predictable that we would have a national public conversation based on Wisconsin, and to some extent the Occupy movement, about how the economy in the United States works very well for the wealthiest people in the country. And so maybe two years ago, you’d say, oh, it would be good to have a Republican candidate who’s a CEO, who could run as the CEO of the country. That would be a good argument. But snap forward to the spring of 2011 when the country is having a debate about, “Well, how can some select companies make so much money, but have most Americans, most middle class people, have a hard time struggling?” Then, sort of Mitt Romney’s idea about the economy, in particular, the kind of Bain Capital idea, becomes the story of an economy that people maybe don’t want.
So I’d say his fundamental argument is that we need to make the country work better for companies, and it will work out for everyone else. If we give tax cuts overwhelmingly to the wealthy, if we reduce the capital gains tax, if we reduce the corporate tax, then we will have economic prosperity. I think at this moment in time, on the left and the right, people are having a new debate about, actually, we could do all those things, we did all of those things under George Bush. But if we don’t – I’m not sure that builds an economy that works for everyone.
So to be more precise about it, the moment for Mitt Romney who, to some extent, if you have a popular movement about 99 percent and the 1 percent, Mitt Romney is the poster child for a 1 percenter. The moment may not be Mitt Romney’s moment, is reason one.
And two, in his candidacy – two years ago, I think people said Mitt Romney was an excellent candidate and he stayed on his message. And I think he has not proved to be an excellent candidate. He is having a hard time – back to independent voters, you can’t become president of the United States without feeding a thousand people chili in the state of New Hampshire. You have to meet people and talk to them and hear about their lives. And that’s harder than many people think it is.
The two reasons why I would say he’s not as strong as he was a year ago, one is, he represents an economic vision that’s fundamentally out of step with where the country is. And two, he proved to be weakened by his Republican primary, not strengthened, the way Barack Obama was strengthened by our Democratic primary (inaudible).
MODERATOR: All right. Thank you so much. And thank you everyone.
MS. MCGUINNESS: Good. Okay. Thank you.
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