April 12 2007
Securing the Female Vote
As Hillary Clinton battles her way toward becoming the first female president, famous women everywhere are rallying to her side. Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, tennis star Billie Jean King, and 1984 vice-presidential candidate Geraldine Ferraro recently announced that they've formed a "rapid rebuttal force" to defend Clinton from her detractors.
This latest news has solidified what seems to be conventional wisdom: Women are so excited about the prospect of a female president that they will vote as a monolithic, gender-biased, Democratic bloc and carry Clinton to victory. Indeed, since launching her candidacy, the former first lady has made it clear that appealing to female voters will be central to her campaign.
But despite the prevailing opinions of media commentators, the female vote isn't necessarily a slam-dunk for Hillary. To gain the votes of most women -- the not-so-famous, so to speak -- she'll have to fight for it, just as other candidates, Democratic and Republican, have done since political pundits began pontificating on the "gender gap."
Historically, male and female voting patterns have differed because of competing visions over the proper role of the government. In recent years, a slight majority of women have tended to prefer a larger government with more services -- and therefore have voted for Democrats. Meanwhile, a majority of men have voted Republican, preferring a smaller government with fewer services.
But the gender gap has started to shrink. In 2000, Al Gore won the women's vote by 12 percentage points. By 2004, however, John Kerry won the women's vote by just three percentage points, as President Bush improved his standing among female voters dramatically.
The fact is that women are wealthier, healthier and more independent than ever before. And free market policies have much to do with the strides American women have made.
As an increasingly educated pool of women enters the workforce, the financial independence they are capable of allows them to balance their desires to have fulfilling careers and provide hands-on care to family members. Through policies that encourage ownership, free-market principles promote that stability.
Homeownership is not only the American way, it is one of the most important factors in achieving financial security. Today, thanks to tax policies that encourage homeownership, more Americans own homes than ever before. This enables women to build equity and fosters stable families. Children of homeowners score 9 percent higher on math tests and 7 percent higher in reading. They're about 25 percent more likely to graduate from high school, and more than twice as likely to graduate from college.
Social Security reform is another example of how free-market policies promote financial independence.
While higher-income workers can afford to supplement Social Security with 401(k)s and other retirement vehicles, hardworking single moms are often unable to save. They rely on Social Security much more so than men for their retirement income.
Allowing younger workers to invest a portion of each paycheck into a personal retirement account would go a long way toward rectifying the gross unfairness of today's system. But Clinton has opposed such reform measures.
Democrats also claim that their efforts to raise the minimum wage will help poor women. "Women especially will benefit from this wage increase," said Clinton, referring to the recently passed legislation. However, the main beneficiaries of this political red herring are suburban teenagers working at their neighborhood fast food restaurant. The sad reality is that a higher federal minimum wage may do more harm than good.
If an employer is forced to increase wages, he must find a way to compensate for that lost revenue -- either by reducing other salaries, by laying off employees, by hiring fewer workers, by raising prices on consumers, or by some combination of these options. Further, higher minimum wages keep those with few job skills out of the market entirely, preventing many young women from getting their first job.
Education is another great example. More than anything else, a child's progress depends on good schools growing up. But if a low-income child is trapped in a failing school, his parents have few options: They can move, put their children in a private school, or teach them at home. None of these choices are ideal, particularly for parents who must work outside the home.
That's why school choice is so important for women and their families. It affords families more flexibility and demonstrably boosts student achievement. In fact, while President Bill Clinton was in office, the National Research Council recommended that the government fund a "large-scale" school choice experiment. But few Democrats, including Senator Clinton, support such measures.
Nearly six in 10 women view Sen. Clinton favorably. But she doesn't have the female vote locked up just yet. The gender gap is shrinking, and as more and more women become proponents of limited government, low spending, and pro-growth economic policies, a candidate who truly embraces policies that improve the lives of women and their families just might have a chance to prove today's conventional wisdom wrong.
Michelle D. Bernard is the president and CEO of the Independent Women's Forum and author of the upcoming book "Women's Progress, How Women are Wealthier, Healthier, and More Independent than Ever Before."