Since October, the College Republican National Committee has funded a campaign to encourage women to vote for GOP candidates. The commercial imitates the TLC show “Say Yes to the Dress” and features a group of young women shopping for a wedding dress.
Brittany, the main character of the Michigan version of the ad and an undecided voter, prefers a wedding dress called “The Rick Snyder,” while her mother, to Brittany’s horror, encourages her to purchase “The Mark Schauer.”
This ad isn’t the first for this election season: Candidates across the country are using television ads to appeal to women voters.
“They’re trying to draw a contrast between sort of the same old and some forward looking agenda,” said Michael Traugott, director of the University’s Center for Political Studies. “They’re hoping that women will respond to this.”
Traugott said Republican candidates in the gubernatorial and senatorial elections in the state are compelled to reach out to women because they now make up the majority of the voting population.
“The emphasis on women is something since the 80s and women became a majority of the electorate just as they are a majority of the population,” he said. “The turnout rate is higher for women than the turnout rate for men currently, so women are therefore the largest single voting block in the electorate. If you can get a lead and hold it among women this is a big step towards winning an election.”
In the 2012, Gallup polls indicated a major gender gap in voting preferences. The Republican Party in particular has suffered from a lack of female supporters. Among female voters, Barack Obama attained a 12-point lead over the Republican candidate, Mitt Romney.
“The national party has a poor reputation with women, so they need to try to convert them to support Republican candidates,” Traugott said. “Especially when the polls show that they’re running behind on women.”
Josh Pasek, faculty associate at the Center for Political Studies whose research focuses on how media shapes political views, said the Democratic Party is typically viewed as the leader on women’s issues.
“Things like abortion tend to be thought of as something that’s more of a women’s issue than sort of national issue necessarily,” Pasek said. “And so you’ll see a lot of Democrats trying to say to women that the Republican pro-life policies are going to be detrimental to them in some way, shape or form.”
Terri Lynn Land, the Republican candidate for U.S. Senate, has been known to support a ban on abortions in all cases. In response to Land’s views, U.S. Rep. Gary Peters, the Democratic candidate, approved an advertisement that featured several women expressing outrage over Land’s stance on healthcare for women. To counter, Land created a 30-second ad that questioned Peters’ claim.
Pasek said it’s more difficult to argue a female candidate is not supportive of women’s issues.
“The Democrats … are going to say well these candidates that are for pro-life policies … and that’s typically going to be helpful for people who a using gender issues as a way to try and make their decision,” Pasek said. “But on the other hand there are a bunch of people who are going to look at the gender of the candidates and say, ‘Wait a minute. That doesn’t seem to match up.’ So what Terri Lynn Land is almost certainly doing in a commercial like that is trying to encourage that particular reaction.”
Laura Meyer, co-chair of Women’s Issues Committee of the University’s chapter of College Democrats, said both Land’s and Snyder’s ads were missteps because they can be viewed as condescending.
“I think candidates should (approach women) in an educated and informed way,” Meyer said. “I think it needs to be a way that treats them as equals who are perfectly capable of understanding the issues, understanding the different candidates.”
Pasek said commercials are used to target women voters because television is the most efficient way to reach a large segment of the population.
“If you’re going at women and you pick a good show, more than half the people that your commercial’s going to hit are going to be your target demographic,” he said. “That’s pretty effective.”
However, Pasek said he does not know to what extent television ads drive the ultimate course of an election.
“Whether that works or not (ads) work is still an open question,” he said. “Television ads have a four to five day effect period. Five days after the ad has appeared everyone has forgotten it and it doesn’t make much of a difference anymore.”