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MediaTrack 2008—Pelosi Ascent Marks Gender Gap Milestone

January 29, 2007

“If only men had voted—had there been no Susan B. Anthony and women’s suffrage—we would be looking at a Republican House and Senate,” Eleanor Smeal told a recent Women’s Media Center political briefing. Smeal, president of the Feminist Majority Foundation and publisher of Ms. magazine, was joined byleading pollster and political strategist Celinda Lake; Meredith Wagner, executive vice president of Lifetime Entertainment; and Stacy Morrison, editor-in-chief of Redbook. While much ink has been spilled over the notion that Democrats were able to secure victory in November only by moving to the right, the reality, says Smeal, is that the gender gap closed the deal for Democratic candidates across the country. In key close contests such as Virginia’s Senate race, which saw a 10 point gender gap as women voted for Democrat Jim Webb by a ratio of 55 to 45 over male voters, or in Montana, where by a 7 point gender gap, women led Jon Tester to victory, women’s votes changed the balance of power for the nation. Indeed, notes Celinda Lake, who conducted an election day poll for Ms. magazine, the untold story is that young women, in particular, led the way, forming the vanguard of new young voters going 2 to 1 for Democrats. “Women have a much deeper domestic agenda than men,” says Lake. Her poll shows women leading the push for change on the Iraq war but also on healthcare, social security and the economy—a trend led by Democratic and Independent women. Women’s leading priorities include such domestic issues as childcare, raising the minimum wage and rebuilding after Hurricane Katrina. Men are more likely to focus on corruption in government, the war and the economy as top issues. A joint post-election poll conducted by Lifetime and Redbook magazine suggests that women political candidates are seen as different from, and even as preferable to, male candidates. While the much touted quality of charisma is overwhelmingly ascribed to male politicians, says Stacy Morrison, only around 1% of those polled felt it to be important. However, when it comes to the two attributes most highly valued by both men and women in politicians, women are seen as both more trustworthy (by over three times as much) and more ethical than men. For women, the 2006 results were capped by Nancy Pelosi’s ascension as the first female speaker of the House in U.S. history. “This is a woman who’s now third in line for the presidency,” notes Smeal. “This is not only our first woman speaker. It’s our first self-identified feminist speaker.” Ms. brags about being the first national magazine to feature Speaker Pelosi on its front cover, with the tagline, “This is what a speaker looks like!”  Last year, a Ms. e-mail alert campaign to advocate for Nancy Pelosi as Time magazine’s 2006 Person of the Year helped move her into third place on a straw poll list featured on the Time web site. Smeal believes readers can be organized as an activist tool to influence the media. Meredith Wagner, whose Lifetime Network is received in 90 million homes across the country, says simply speaking up influences media coverage. “If we get 30 e-mails the next day after we air something, we pay attention,” she says. Given the immediacy of e-mail, she says, “In fact, I think we pay more attention than we did when people wrote letters. Never underestimate the power you have.” Wagner points to a media preoccupation with “hemlines and haircuts” when it comes to women in the public eye. She hopes to penetrate that mindset with projects such as Lifetime’s Spotlight 25, part of which focuses on 30 women, age 25, working on Capitol Hill—all socially and politically engaged activists. Yet only two of them could see themselves running for office. If we fail to challenge media’s trivial fixations, she says, “these young women are never going to answer that invitation.”  Smeal cites a statement, “You can’t be what you don’t see,” by Marie Wilson of the White House Project. “We have to change that picture,” says Wagner. The public is ready for change. A Washington Post/ABC News poll conducted January 16 to 19 shows Senator Hillary Clinton of New York winning the Democratic primary and beating both Republican frontrunners—former New York Mayor Rudi Giuliani and Arizona Senator John McCain—were the election held now. Perhaps some groundwork was laid by Geena Davis as the fictional President Mackenzie Allen: the Lifetime-Redbook poll shows that the number of people who believe we will see a female U.S. President in 2008 has almost doubled in only two years—and a majority now believe this will happen within a decade. One thing is certain, says Celinda Lake. “Women will elect the next president.” After all, notes Smeal, “we’re more than half the voters.” This event launched Women’s Votes, Women’s Power—MediaTrack 2008, a Women’s Media Center campaign that will report and analyze the issues, polls and people critical to women in the 2008 el
Tags: Politics