Soon after the Supreme Court’s decision in the Hobby Lobby case was announced, Democratic strategists and national pundits began claiming that another battle was being fought in the war on women. Today’s Wall Street Journal article even claimed that Democrats wanted to enter the fall campaign season with the war on women as a main theme (http://online.wsj.com/articles/hooray-the-war-on-women-is-back-1404342755).
As with other “War on . . .” expressions, the “War on Women” is more hype than reality. The “War on Drugs” has done little to cut the supply of illegal drugs coming into the United States. The “War on Women” sounds like it should inspire women of all political beliefs to strike hard against the patriarchal political system and vote more women, especially progressive women, into office.
In North Carolina, fewer women are running for political office in 2014 than in 2002, even after the “War on Women” rhetoric has dominated headlines. From 1996-2008, about 15 percent of all candidates on the North Carolina aggregate ballot were women. Since 2010, the number of women running has decreased to 13 percent.
Women are a political force in the country. President Obama was reelected with the largest gender gap in history and unmarried women are a growing force in electoral politics that candidates such as Kay Hagan fight hard get to the polls in large numbers. Since 1980 women have outvoted men in presidential elections.
The issue with the phrase “War on Women” as a campaign rallying cry is that it does not change the fundamentals of political campaigns. Economic issues, including the increasing income gap between “haves” and “have nots” and President Obama’s declining popularity will be the key drivers of the midterm election. Good candidates will continue to beat bad candidates and no real or perceived attacks on women will change that.
The Hobby Lobby decision adds to the ever-present political discussion of abortion, but the gender gap on the abortion issue is less than the gender advantage President Obama enjoyed in 2012 (10 point v. 6 points) and more women consider themselves “pro-life” than “pro-choice” according to recent Gallup polling.
The strategists and pundits who claimed that this Supreme Court decision will affect the midterm elections are premature and, probably, wrong about its significance. Ultimately if women want to exercise their political power, it will come down to recruiting and electing more women at the ballot box. This will come as a result of an intense, sustained effort at changing women’s views of themselves as potential political leaders, rather than relying on the false promise of an empty rallying cry.