Speaking with Authority (2001)

Economic Security

Voter Gender Biases: What Are Voters Thinking?

While one in five voters is looking for a candidate whose top priority is security and terrorism, half are looking for someone focused on economic and domestic issues. This bodes well for female candidates, who are competitive with male candidates on homefront issues and finances.

As with national security, some approaches give women greater credibility than others. Women voters believe that female candidates know firsthand the hardships of the economy. Male voters are unwilling to concede this to female candidates.

Which “Economic Issues” Give Women Candidates the Greatest Credibility?

Voters have a multi-faceted and sometimes conflicting agenda for dealing with the economy. Their top priorities are investing in education and cutting taxes. Men and women voters show little difference in their priorities.

Democratic women are most credible when talking about education and job training (solutions to unemployment), while Republican women have voters’ confidence on tax cuts.

Economic Messages that Work

The strongest economic messages for both Democratic and Republican female candidates are about helping people living in distressed economic areas and understanding the problems of unemployed workers and families, such as rising health care costs.

However, when female candidates talk about the solutions to unemployment and a sagging economy, they must remember that on the economic agenda, Party affiliation matters to voters more then gender. Voters perceive Republican women as making a stronger case than Democratic women on cutting taxes, and Democratic women as making a stronger case than Republican women on investing in education and unemployment.

Democratic Message

“We need an economic stimulus package that puts helping families who have been hit by the recession and job creation first. We need to invest in job training and create jobs in hard hit areas. We need to delay the large tax cuts passed last year for the wealthiest 1% and keep the budget from sinking into long-term deficits and hurting the economy. We should use the money instead to extend unemployment benefits and help the unemployed pay for health care benefits and provide rebates to those who did not get them. We need to speed up ready-to- go construction programs like airport security and school construction to create jobs.”

(75% of all women and 65% of all men find this statement convincing when coming from a female candidate; 72% of women and 68% of men find this statement convincing when coming from a male candidate.)

Republican Message

“We need an economic stimulus package that will jump start the economy and help businesses, including small businesses, create jobs. We need to expand on the tax cuts passed last year in order to give people and companies back their money so that they can invest it in our economy. There needs to be: tax rebates of up to $600 for many families who didn’t qualify for the earlier rebate plan; additional tax cuts to get our economy moving, including tax cuts for businesses hard hit by September 11th who need money to invest and create jobs; and incentives to cut costs for those who create new jobs and keep people employed.”

(71% of all women and 63% of all men find this statement convincing when coming from a female candidate; 66% of women and 73% of men find this statement convincing when coming from a male candidate.)

The Best Language for Women Candidates Speaking on the Economy

While the persuasiveness of specific economic proposals varies depending on partisanship, female candidates gain credibility by focusing on the health or education consequences of an economic proposal. Retirement and Social Security issues also have particular resonance with voters.

When speaking about these issues, you should be mindful of mentioning specific industries and hard hit areas in your own state. For instance, show how investing in education pays off.

Voters appreciate that national security is a function of both national defense and domestic economic strength.

Economic Language that is Least Effective for Female Candidates

The messages that are least convincing and on which women have the least credibility are those that debate specific tax provisions and fiscal protections.

For instance, since Party affiliation trumps gender when talking about the economy, Democratic women should avoid talking about expanding the tax cuts of last year.

Republican and Democratic women can successfully enter the economic debate indirectly and with specific proposals – such as those that address the impact on families of economic decline, education and pocketbook economics. Female candidates are less credible to voters when they talk about the macro-economics of job creation.

For Candidates

  1. Democratic Language and Phrase
    1. “If economic conditions worsen, millions of additional working families will face unemployment and lose their health care coverage. We need to extend unemployment benefits and help families keep their health care coverage
    2. “We need to invest in job training programs as a solution to unemployment
    3. “Corporate lobbyists and big wealthy corporations are taking advantage of the recession and the events of September. Rather than giving them tax breaks, we need to think about unemployment and health benefits for laid-off workers and their families.”
  2. Republican Language and Phrases
    1. “If economic conditions worsen, millions of additional working families will face unemployment and lose their health care coverage. We need to invest in tax incentives to create jobs now.”
    2. “We need to expand on the tax cuts passed last year in order to give people and companies back their money so that they can invest it in our economy.”
  3. Bipartisan Language and Phrases:
    1. “We need to build a strong nation here at home with a well-educated, secure citizenry and provide a secure future for our children and our families.”
    2. “We need to create good paying jobs, particularly in economically hard hit areas.”
    3. “True national security will not only come from anti-terrorism and military defense, but from investing at home in good paying jobs, good schools and health care.”