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Nov 8, 2012

How women voters became the kingmakers

Barack Obama won 55% of the female vote, meaning it was women who decided this year's presidential election. Politicians who refuse to take women's concerns and freedoms seriously are now on notice.

I suspect it may be dawning on a few white men as I write this that giving women the vote was a seriously bad idea.

Suddenly the constituency that used to rule the world — because they ruled America — are getting a sense of just what it feels like to be a minority group. And I don’t think they like it much.

According to numbers that are being crunched as I write, Barack Obama outpolled Mitt Romney in every group except older white men. Based on these admittedly preliminary figures, the President won 55% of the female vote, 93% of the African American vote and 71% of the Latino vote. He also outpolled Romney in every age group up to 45 and won the votes of most Americans who live in cities.

But if these early figures are correct, it is women who have really decided this election. That’s because they are 53% of the population, while blacks are 13%, Latinos 10% and Asians 3%. Even younger people only add up to 46% of the American population.

In other words, women voters in the US have become the kingmakers and let’s hope one day soon, the queenmakers.

Numbers being what they are, it is interesting to speculate how long it will take the religious Right in America to face up to the ramifications of this. Just think about it for a moment, the Republicans fielded two white male candidates in this election. Both were devoutly religious. Romney is a Mormon and his running mate Paul Ryan is an ultra conservative Catholic. Romney, who used to be pro-choice, fell meekly into line with the right-to-life dogma of the Republicans to seal the nomination, while Ryan took things a step further by being opposed to both abortion and contraception.

A few helpful Republican Senate candidates weighed in with some remarkable statements about abortion and r-pe. Todd Akin was clear that if a woman was “legitimately” r-ped her body would close down and expel the nasty man’s sperm. In other words, if you were r-ped and conceived, you clearly wanted it. Richard Mourdock chimed in with his pious belief that if a woman became pregnant after being r-ped then clearly that was what his God wanted. Both men lost their seats, Akin, most satisfyingly, to a female candidate; Claire McCaskill.

It also didn’t help their side of politics that a number of Republican dominated State Houses instituted draconian laws against abortion, including forced vaginal ultrasounds. Or that women in the US were forced to watch a bunch of blokes argue that women’s right to publicly subsidised contraception interfered with their religious rights — and get taken seriously! A spectacle that led university student Sandra Fluke to protest loudly about their lack of understanding about real women’s lives and experiences. Her protest in turn led to right wing shock jock Rush Limbaugh calling her a sl-t and a prost-tute and suggesting that if Americans had to pay for her contraceptives she should post videos of her s-xual encounters online. Way to win female votes, boys.

Such was the onslaught by the religious right on women and their freedom to control their own bodies and destiny, that some called it a “war against women”. This was pooh-poohed by conservative pundits, but the polling must have been showing the religious right something because Ann Romney was wheeled out in an attempt to woo the women’s vote. She kept trying to make the point that the economy was the most pressing issue for women. She was right, but somehow failed to make the connection that for most women the number of children they have directly impacts their prosperity. Could it be because she is married to a multi-millionaire?

Even here in Australia, uppity owners of uteruses were making older white blokes nervous. Tony Abbott trotted meekly along behind wife Margie as she attempted to reassure female voters that despite all appearances to the contrary Tony really was a feminist. When Gillard made her impassioned speech about s-xism and misogyny, some pundits shook their heads over the idiocy of her speech getting three million Youtube hits, while speeches on really important issues like — say — productivity went ignored. I wonder what they think the effect on productivity might be if we properly utilised the talents of 52% of the Australian population who, incidentally, just happen to be the best educated women in the world?

As long as those on the Right, most of whom older white men, refuse to believe that the issues that matter to women really matter, then expect more of the same. Reproductive rights are not theoretical to women. They are not something that only concern some marginalised group of not-very-nice people. They directly and viscerally affect women’s liberty and opportunity. Two things American voters in particular have been trained since childhood to hold dear. Perhaps that’s also why American women are much more likely to get off their bums and exercise the democratic right their great-grandmothers fought so hard to win for them.

Politicians all over the world who refuse to take women’s concerns and freedoms seriously are now on notice.

*This article was originally published at Women’s Agenda

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26 comments

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26 thoughts on “How women voters became the kingmakers

  1. fredex

    Several of the right wing pundits are currently bemoaning the lack of traction of the Repubs with ‘minority’ groups.
    They are right of course, they know that women constitute only about 0% of the US male population.

  2. Thorn

    I have difficulty recalling any significant (except, I believe, the recognition of Aboriginal people as citizens) piece of social justice legislation introduced by the Conservative side of politics in Australia.

    As virtually every piece of social justice legislation appears to affect women especially, it is hard to imagine why women in this country even consider the conservatives as a viable group to govern them.

    This is even more true when the present Labor Government is presiding over the lowest interest rates and personal taxes in memory, a hugely lower tax to GDP ratio than during the Howard years, a debt to GDP ratio that is one of the lowest in the world and low unemployment – all in the midst of the GFC.

    Any Australian concerned with the future of this country for themselves and their children would be mad to even consider Abbott etc with the complete lack of personal believability and the total lack of credible policy that his now really right wing party represents.

  3. Mark

    This take from Slate suggests that marriage was an even more decisive factor than gender – http://slate.me/RYsxj1

  4. lorraine benham

    So well said Jane. I was in America up until the last week of the elections and it was sick making listening to the old, white men pundits opining about the broad electoral coalition which have now returned Obama (women, latinos, afro-americans) in heavily patronising, pompous and dismissive terms. Well they got it all wrong and now there’s a chance of some good progressive policies provided the old, white men who still control Congress come to their senses.

  5. Hamis Hill

    So how about Michelle Obama as the first “real” African American president?
    Yes, she doesn’t want it, but wouldn’t all those women lusting after someone like Michelle teach all those “white men” a lesson, eh Jane?
    Ought to shrivel up quite a few, undeserving, oppressive male gonads.
    How about Oprah then?

  6. justin cotton

    That’s just nonsense. I’m tired of all this overtly feminist bollocks. It is extremely divisive. Which is not what Obama is about. The fact is he also had over 70% of the Latino vote and around 96% of the black vote.

  7. justin cotton

    And before you accuse me of being another white middle aged male oppressor……..I’m an agnostic, moderaly young, part Maori gay man. Fed up to the eyeballs wih hearing from feminazis.

  8. Gwen Staral

    I found myself disagreeing with just about everything in this article. For one, you pretend to speak for all women, which you don’t! Secondly, you mention how women are making inroads into political choices, with over 50% of the population women, and you salivate at the idea of being the majority for once. And what do you do think about this?? “It’s time to make men pay!” So in reality, you’re no different then the old white men you complain about. Funny how that works.

    Thirdly, if you really cared about equal rights and progressive ideas then how can you stand for the social darwinistic and barbaric idea that unborn children are nothing. You don’t even mention them! Way to avoid the subject. If you were truly brave about equal rights you would stand up for the most defenseless minority in the world. Instead, to you, they are just an inconvenience to be done away with. I bet you don’t even consider unborn children human beings, am I right? And yet you think you can lecture these “old white men” who have similar views that white man is the highest form of human being and everybody is below them. As I said before, you’re no different.

    (And no one give me the whole “rape and insest” argument since I’m not refering to those instances)

  9. Tom Jones

    Justin there may be a lot of women who will say things like “I am not a feminist but…..I still want to determine my ability to have children”. The MSM controlled by old white men have presented a false position for feminism but when the politics get personal women are quite happy to have control over their own bodies and lives. The Catholic church has still to catch up with the reality that many Catholic women have just ignored the strictures on contraception and abortion because the old men who make the rules never have to live with the consequences. Tony Abbott is still listening to these old men who are quite divisive in their determination to make decisions about other people’s especially women’s lives.

  10. Gwen Staral

    Excuse me moderators, I know my comment isn’t in keeping with the ideology of this website but surely you are not against an open forum for debate?