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The 'War on Women' backfires on Democrats

As President Obama’s poll numbers have slipped over recent months, Democrats are trying to build a narrative that there is a Republican "War on Women." The White House and the Democratic Party, along with outmoded "feminist" organizations, are betting that they can goose turnout in November and the Democratic vote among women by fear-mongering on "women's issues."

Central to this strategy is advancing the Paycheck Fairness Act (PFA) – a bill the left claims will ensure equal pay for men and women. However, the reality is that this kind of labor regulation will likely hamper the job market for women of all political stripes – unless, of course, if they are trial lawyers -- by expanding the definition of “wage discrimination,” making it easier to file class-action lawsuits, and opening businesses up to greater litigation and uncertainty. Regardless of the consequences to real women, Democrats seem determined to use the PFA as a way to keep the very political “War on Women” mantra alive.

So the question we all have is will the “War on Women” campaign work for Democrats? And is the PFA an effective weapon to use against Republicans?

New research conducted for Independent Women’s Voice (IWV) finds that while the “War on Women” narrative might please the most liberal Democrats, it actually hurts them with independents and weak partisans who helped put President Obama in the White House in the first place.

Unlike standard polls that ask respondents if they find an argument convincing, IWV made use of a controlled message experiment in order to determine the real causal impact of the Democrat’s message on the Paycheck Fairness Act, as well as the anti-PFA messages. And, it should be noted, we surveyed only pure independents and weak partisans – no strong Republicans or Democrats were included.

We found that the vast majority of women (74 percent) agree at least somewhat that workplace discrimination is a serious problem; but this doesn’t necessarily mean they want more government regulation to “solve” the problem. Respondents exposed to the Democratic argument alone may strongly favor the PFA (45 percent). But when they also read about the economic ramifications of the bill, support dramatically decreases. “Strong” support for the bill drops 35-points to a mere 10 percent.

Simply put: this is not a burning issue, even for women.

The results also indicate that conservatives too often talk about workplace regulations like the PFA in the terms put forth by feminist groups on the left, in which the notion of a “wage gap” becomes the premise of the conversation. Instead, we found women moved most in our survey when we highlighted the ill-economic effects of burdensome regulation like the PFA.

So what does this mean for the larger “War on Women” narrative? Overwhelmingly, both men and women do not agree with the claim that there is a Republican “War on Women.” In fact, only 34 percent of women across all conditions agree there is a “War on Women.”

 Even when exposed to the Democrat’s message on the PFA, opinion on the “War on Women” barely moves. 

Perhaps even more interesting is what this means for President Obama’s reelection prospects.

The Obama campaign seems to think playing gender politics will help him secure female votes in November, but it turns out the exact opposite is the case. 

The Democratic message in favor of the PFA is not effective at increasing the vote for Obama over Romney. What’s more, the debate over the PFA reduces support for President Obama among women who already voted for him in 2008 by 12 points, from 87 percent down to 75 percent. And Romney’s support jumps +12-points from 13 percent to 25 percent.  

Voters are focused on the real problems our nation is facing – both national and generational in scope. The progressive playbook for defending Obama and attempting to regain the White House is to distract and divide. 

What the “War on Women” narrative reveals is how the left chooses to demonize anyone who questions government overreach. Not only is this how they continue to push their progressive agenda – in health care, workplace regulations, education policy, and entitlement policy – but also how they perpetuate the myth of women as victims in need of government protection.

It turns out that pitting men and women against each other is neither smart policy nor smart politics. Voters don’t want more gender wars or government regulation they want an economy that works. 

Sabrina L. Schaeffer is executive director of the Independent Women’s Voice.