Walk down the streets of New Albany, Ohio and ask women what they want from their government. It will give you insights into the priorities of the single most important voting demographic going into the 2016 elections.
It is well established that Ohio holds the keys to the White House. No Republican has ever been elected to the presidency without winning Ohio, while no Democrat has been elected without carrying the Buckeye State since 1960. In today’s political environment, this means Republicans must earn more of the women’s vote than in the recent past while Democrats cannot afford to lose votes from a key part of their coalition.
There is no question Ohio women will see advertising, get knocks on their doors and receive phone calls from every presidential candidate, grassroots organization, political party and issue advocacy group. The question is, will they hear about the issues that matter most to them? This is why Kristen Anderson of Echelon Insights researched the priorities of women voters in Ohio with a survey commissioned by the GOPAC Education Fund and American Freedom Builders.
When given a series of policy proposals and asked to rate what would be “most extremely helpful to me,” it will be welcomed news to conservatives that “lowering taxes” ranked at the top, followed by “make health care more affordable,” “better schools,” “less government debt,” and “lower cost of college.”
There is no question Ohio women will see advertising, get knocks on their doors and receive phone calls from every presidential candidate, grassroots organization, political party and issue advocacy group. The question is, will they hear about the issues that matter most to them?
While taxes, health care and schools are important across party lines, it is worth noting that women are not a monolithic voting block. Both independent and Democratic women have the same top three items: lower taxes, more affordable health care, and better public schools.
Republicans also prioritize these things, but place greater emphasis on debt and border security. When it comes to age breakdown, younger women have a particular focus on education issues. Taxes become the top priority during middle age. Senior women see their health care and border security as most important.
With this in mind, why are conservatives struggling to earn a greater percentage of approval amongst women voters in most media polls? The challenge is less with conservative ideas (in fact the majority of women voters favor a conservative approach to governing) and more with them not hearing conservatives talk about their priorities.
Women voters want to learn how candidates are going to give people more control over their careers, provide greater security, and improve essential government services.
When it comes to giving people more control over their careers, conservatives need to emphasize ideas that promote giving people the skills and freedom to chart their own course. With that said, there is a big difference between “supporting job creators” and “making it simpler to be your own boss.” While many respondents believe job creation is essential, messages about supporting job creators did not test nearly as well as other messages about skills training and the opportunity to be one’s own boss.
To that point, 74% of women strongly agree we should improve programs that give people jobs skills and training in an affordable way that doesn’t require taking out lots of student loans. Empowering people to have the skills to do what they want (without needing to take on student debt), including the ability to work from home or to start a business, resonates across age groups but especially with young women.
On providing more security, conservatives must address women’s deep concern about the security of our nation’s border and of our technology infrastructure. Given the recent hack of government files and the prominence of “sanctuary cities” in the news, this message is potent.
Seventy-two percent strongly agree we should dramatically increase our nation’s cyber security efforts to prevent against further hacks and security breaches that expose personal data.
Further, 70% strongly agree we need to secure the border, defund “sanctuary cities” and enforce laws requiring deportation of violent offenders who are here illegally. It is worth noting that few were enthused with the idea of using ground troops to fight ISIS abroad.
In the area of improving essential government services, conservatives must promote policies that make fixes to programs and laws intended to help those in need. Rather than fighting to repeal programs or cut benefits, women voters want to hear how to improve programs that cost too much or don’t achieve their goals.
Eighty-three percent agree we should fix the health care law and roll back some of its regulations to give people better care and more affordable health insurance options.
Eighty-five percent agree we should preserve but appropriately adjust costly programs, like Medicaid, that provide health care for those in need.
Eighty-four percent agree we should reform our nation’s anti-poverty programs so people who need temporary help can get aid from community groups rather than through federal bureaucracy.
Lastly, 81 percent agree we should increase child tax credits so parents can have extra income to help with childcare or in case one parent wants to stay home.
The research is clear that a winning agenda for conservatives centers on giving people more control over their careers, providing greater security and improving essential government services.
The upcoming election offers the perfect opportunity to take this message to women voters in New Albany, across Ohio and throughout America.
John McClelland is the President of American Freedom Builders.