Week in Review: Debates and Gender in the Election

Maria Lombardi ’15

In the past week, not only did we witness the third and final presidential debate, but New York Times blogger Nate Silver discussed this year’s historically high gender gap, and an editorial published by the New York Times investigated the possible implications of electing Mitt Romney and what this for women abroad and in the United States. Although they cover a range of issues, these articles are useful in understanding the events leading up to the presidential election, what factors will help determine a winner, how the presidential election will affect American citizens, and its impact on a global level.

In her USA TODAY article entitled “Analysis: Will Final Debate Break Voters’ Stalemate?” Susan Page wonders whether the third presidential debate will actually have an influence on American denizens. Page asserts that unlike the first debate where President Obama seemed barely there, the President was looking for a fight, and Mitt Romney, who was determined not to give the President the upper hand, assumed a more passive stance. During the debate, Obama accused Romney of espousing “wrong” and dangerous foreign policies “that would risk new wars.” On the offensive, the President was able to promote the image that Romney is uneducated and ill-informed with several key statements such as, “We have fewer ships than we did in 1916. Well Governor, we also have fewer horses and bayonets… This is not a game of battleship.” While this comment and several others support the Democratic campaign’s portrayal of the Republican candidate, Page argues that it might not be enough. Page cites Gallup polls that depict Obama going into the first debate with a four-percentage point lead amongst registered voters, being tied with Romney before the second, and then trailing his Republican counterpart by one point among registered voters and six among likely voters before the third. She attributes this to the fact that the first two debates enabled Romney to persuade undecided voters to see him as a conceivable president. In the third debate, as Page suggests, Romney’s strategy was to appear presidential. Page believes that although it does not mean he will win the election, Romney has established a much better chance for himself because he has shown that he is not the monster Democrats make him out to be and also that he can appear presidential.

Nate Silver, in his article “’Gender Gap’ Near Historic Highs,” discusses how the gender gap originated and what it will mean for the 2012 presidential election. Silver attributes the increase in the gender gap in 1973 to  the Roe v. Wade decision. The decision caused reproductive rights to become a greater focus in presidential elections, especially after 1980 when Ronald Reagan was more willing to campaign on the issue than any of his predecessors. Silver believes that the gender gap is determined more by partisan ideology than pocketbook voting. Apart from abortion, Silver associates women with being more liberal on social issues than men, on problems ranging from gun control to same-sex marriage. He believes that since the gap is partisan-dependant, as long as the parties continue to be polarized the gender gap will continue to grow. In regards to the current election, not only are women more likely to vote for the Democratic candidate, they are also more likely to vote for a democratic incumbent because women want to give the incumbent another chance. Surveys for this election cycle have also demonstrated that it is fostering perhaps the biggest gender gap in history. Silver asserts that if only women were voting in the election Obama would win by a landslide; conversely, if only men voted Romney would win with no contest. Recent polls show the gender gap at an 18-point average. If this trend were to continue, it would rival the 20-point difference from the 2000 election, recorded as the largest in history. In 2008 President Obama won women votes by a landslide of 13 points against McCain but only won by a single point vote among men. If recent polls are to be trusted, Obama will most likely win by a large majority among women but will either squeak by with the male vote or lose to Romney. This suggests that the election could swing in favor of either candidate and might very well depend on how many people of each sex vote.

Before the first presidential debate, it was thought that President Obama would most likely win. However, after all of the debates it has become apparent that not only will the presidential election be extremely close, but Romney and Ryan have a significant chance of winning. In order to educate the public on policies that will directly impact them, the New York Times published an editorial discussing the Republican and Romney/Ryan policies on women and how it would affect women globally. In America, the duo would support the recriminalization of abortion by overturning Roe v. Wade as well as by limiting access to contraception and other services. Romney has also stated that on his first day in the White House he would reinstate the “global gag rule.” The gag prevents federal money from going towards family-planning work abroad or to any organization that provides advice, information, referrals, services for legal abortion, or that support the legalization of abortion. It hampered the work of family-planning groups overseas, causing closures of clinics, fee increases, and reduced services. The last three Republican presidents, beginning with Ronald Reagan, instituted the gag rule. President Bill Clinton rescinded it, but it was then reinstated by President George W. Bush and subsequently repealed by President Obama. Critics of the gag rule also argue that it ruins America’s image of trying to promote democracy abroad because it violates informed consent by requiring the withholding of information to patients and that it stifles free speech. Romney also promised to end federal contributions to the United Nations Population Fund, which supports programs in 150 countries to reduce infant mortality rates, improve poor women’s reproductive help, prevent the spread of H.I.V., and end the sexual trafficking of women. As the editorial depicts, the Republican War on Women is not solely confined to the United States.

With the election fast approaching, it certainly has been an interesting time in the political arena. Who the victor of the contest will be remains to be seen, but as is becoming the general consensus amongst political pundits, Romney has more of a chance and could potentially be even more likely to win than anyone could have imagined at the beginning of the election cycle. However, there will be many factors at play that determine the victor, including the influence of the debates on the American public, gender and the roles it plays, and voter turnout. It is also important to remember that the battle for gender equality is still being waged in America and that its outcome is not only dependent on the future president but  also has humanitarian implications on a global level.