Melissa Harris-Perry: Thanks for joining us on The Takeaway. I'm Melissa Harris-Perry. It's the final weekend before election day 2022.
According to the US Election Project, more than 33 million people have already cast their ballots, but that doesn't mean parties, campaigns, or candidates are ready to rest their cases. These heady final days are what we like to call closing arguments. There are some time-honored traditions when it comes to making closing arguments, like bringing out a still popular with the base past president to motivate the party loyalists in the swing states.
Speaker 2: Hello, Phoenix. Hello, Iowa.
Speaker 3: Hello, Las Vegas. Hello Milwaukee.
Melissa Harris-Perry: You can't miss the most obvious evidence that we've entered the closing arguments phase, full saturation on the airwaves.
John Federman: I'm John Federman and I approve this message.
Speaker 4: I approve this message because I know how to fight for what really matters.
Raphael Warnock: I'm Raphael Warnock and I'm running for Georgia. That's why I approve this message.
Herschel Walker: I'm Herschel Walker. I approve this message.
Lisa Murkowski: I'm Lisa Murkowski and I approve this message.
Melissa Harris-Perry: If you've checked your mailbox or your email inbox, you've seen it there too. Folks, Halloween is over, so if an eager young person knocks on your door in the next few days, they're not there for candy, they have a closing argument for you.
Will: Hi, my name is Will. Have you decided who you're going to vote for?
Melissa Harris-Perry: Here at The Takeaway, we've been following the 2022 elections through the stories of SHElections, those midterm matchups for all the candidates are women. Today, we've got a little SHElection remix for you as we ask how the parties, candidates, and campaigns of 2022 are targeting women voters in their closing arguments.
Speaker 5: What Florida needs right now is a teacher. Florida needs a mother. Florida needs Karla Hernandez as the Lieutenant Governor.
Speaker 6: Patty Murray knows we need an economy that works for everyone. It's why she's led the fight to make childcare more affordable.
Speaker 7: Black women are a powerful force. We used our voices to make history before. Now we can do it again and stand up against extremist anti-choice politician, Ted Budd.
Melissa Harris-Perry: According to our friends and SHElection partners over at the Center for American Women in Politics, more women have voted in every single midterm election since 1966, and it's not just about turnout. On average, women express different policy priorities, partisan preferences, and even greater political optimism than men. Given that women are literally the majority of American voters, it is not only inaccurate but downright insulting to behave as though women are a specialized subset of voters willing to fall into formation for whichever side best targets them in these closing days.
Danny Trejo: Times are changing. The ladies can do stuff now, and you're going to have to learn how to deal with that.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Sage wisdom from Anchor man, Danny Trejo. When it comes to asking, as Mad Men's Don Draper might have.
Don Draper: What the women want?
Melissa Harris-Perry: Well, the more relevant question is, which women? Here's what some of you told us.
Trisha Stephen: Hello, my name is Trisha Stephen from Wheat Ridge, Colorado. I don't feel that the Dems have really followed through with the messaging of what the Biden administration has accomplished.
Amanda: This is Amanda from Port St. John, Florida. As a woman who votes, I wish the politicians would have talked more about protecting and enshrining women's rights with regard to healthcare and abortion.
Beth Lohovia: Beth Lohovia from East Cleveland, Ohio. The candidates are not talking about new and improved and expanded Medicare for all. It would save us money, it would end deaths, it would end the number one cause of bankruptcy, which is medical debt.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Joining me now is Aimee Allison, founder and president of She The People, a national organization building Power for Women of Color. Thanks for being here, Aimee.
Aimee Allison: My pleasure. Thanks for having me.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Aso with us is Grace Panetta, politics reporter at The 19th. The 19th is a nonprofit newsroom covering gender, politics, and policy. Thanks for being here, Grace.
Grace Panetta: Thank you so much for having me, Melissa.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Let me start, Grace, what is it that we get wrong when we talk about women voters as though they constitute a single clearly targeted voting block?
Grace Panetta: I think you said it perfectly in the intro, it's women are not an interest group. They're not a group who all vote the same way and can be equally swayed by the same arguments in the same places. Women now, we're slightly over half the population, and in many situations, more than half of the electorate as opposed to just a voting block.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Grace, let me stick with you for a moment here because I will say that after the Dobbs decision, there was this sense, and some of it backed up by the empirical evidence and polling, that perhaps as much as women are not a single block, they don't have a single perspective on Dobbs or on abortion, that that might operate almost in that way for these midterms. That doesn't seem to be the case, at least going into this final weekend.
Grace Panetta: For decades now, it's been the case that both religion and partisanship have been much better predictors than gender of someone's views on abortion. Whether or not you're Catholic, evangelical, conservative, or liberal, those are better predictors of your gender, of how you feel about abortion. We are seeing clear signs that abortion is a mobilizing issue, particularly for democratic-leaning women who support abortion rights.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Now, Aimee, we just heard from Grace the important crosscutting identities of religion and of partisanship. The other big one, the elephant in the room here, perhaps, is race. So often we talk about the gender gap or women voters, but as soon as you disaggregate by race, boy, you really see massive differences.
Aimee Allison: Race is the biggest determinant of how women of color vote and what issues and what candidates they back. We found in our organizing, particularly in this midterm year, that when we go from the Central Valley in California through Ohio to Texas to Georgia, it's remarkably similar. Women of color are not a single issue and are really asking for action, but are amongst the voters that want both high prices and abortions to be dealt with and are willing to vote this year and turn out for those issues.
Since we've organized women of color, what's really important is to-- There's no 100% agreement across women of color, but there is remarkable consistency in terms of how women of color approach the vote and an acknowledgment of what we want, and that's distinct from white women.
Melissa Harris-Perry: It's interesting, Aimee, when you make this point that in your listening sessions and the work that you've been doing, you've been seeing that for women of color, for both black women, for Latinas, for Asian American women, that inflation and economic concerns are at the top of the list and reproductive justice, healthcare, and abortion.
Now, in the way we've been hearing about the polling, it's as though these constitute countervailing forces and that those who care about the economy and inflation will cast their vote for Republicans. That those who care about abortion and reproductive rights will cast their vote for Democrats, but it must be, presumably, folks aren't going to go in there and necessarily split all their votes. What do we learn by looking at black women and other women of color about how those are reinforcing rather than countervailing issues?
Aimee Allison: We can look at both how the Democrats and the Republicans have gotten it wrong in their final argument, in the midterms. On one hand, we're hearing that for women of color determining when and if to have children is deeply connected to the economic realities of the cost of food right now, the cost of rent, childcare, education, even black maternal health and whether a woman has access to healthcare during pregnancy. Both issues are important to women of color voters and shouldn't be treated as separate issues.
The innovation arguing from a narrow frame of abortion rights to a broader frame of reproductive justice was led by and defined by black women, particularly in the south, and that justice frame, reproductive justice frame, which includes economic justice, is the way that women of color look at the issue. The Democrats, by narrowly defining that argument, miss an opportunity to connect how important the right to abortion is to all these other issues and give Republicans an opportunity to say, "Well, what about the economy?"
Republicans miss because one of the top three issues for women of color is safety and gun control. When they talk about safety where they talk about crime, for example, as their closing argument, they don't mention gun control, and yet, safety from gun violence is a top issue. I see both parties missing really the crux of what women of color, how we think about the issues, and what's top of mind as we go into the voting booth.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Now, Grace, I want to introduce one more intersectional identity, and that's age. Let's talk initially about young women voters. Again, not a monolith, but more and more impactful even in midterm elections, higher voter turnout. What do we know about the 18 to 29-year-old women, and what's on their minds?
Grace Panetta: Yes, absolutely. Young voters have, for a long time now, turned out at lower rates than people of older generations. Everyone thinks, "Oh, maybe this year it'll be different." In 2020 it was a little bit higher than previous years. There was a boost there. The midterm elections, I think it's important to keep in mind the default for all voters is not voting. That is also true for young voters, but for young women especially, that is a demographic where abortion rights and reproductive rights can be particularly mobilizing because a lot of women of the Gen Z generation, we haven't known a world in which abortion rights weren't protected. It's a very new reality.
Another point too is that people in that 18 to 29 age group, women especially, are far less religious than older generations. This overall decline in religiosity, especially among young people, is also correlated and potentially causing that generation to be way more supportive of abortion rights than older generations. That, particularly, could be a very strong mobilizing issue for young people. It's just a matter of whether it actually gets them to the polls.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Yes. Grace, it's such an interesting point and I'll wonder and we'll take a quick break and we'll come back on. If we see that then differently in states where there was an immediate rollback on reproductive rights post-Dobbs versus states where young women voters might feel a little bit more secure in their reproductive rights and whether or not we'll see that kind of split as well by the time we're at Wednesday, Thursday, Friday of next week, looking at election results. Let's take a quick break right here, but don't fear because we'll be right back with women deciding the outcome of the 2022 midterms when we return. Stick with us. It's The Takeaway.
Melissa Harris-Perry: You're back with The Takeaway. I'm Melissa Harris-Perry. We're talking about the closing arguments that parties, campaigns and candidates are making to try to earn the votes of women in these final days of the midterm contests. Still with me is Aimee Allison founder and president of She the People, and Grace Panetta politics reporter at The 19th. Aimee, I want to come to you. Do Democrats, do Republicans as far as you can see in these final days, do they have effective closers for the women that they are trying to motivate? The folks that they're sending out for these big final stumps, are they getting to these questions?
Aimee Allison: Well, in traditional politics, you say the biggest motivator to go vote is either hope or fear. Republicans, particularly if you go to states where there are highly contested races, where women of color are doing very well and competitive races, Republicans have millions of dollars of dark money in ads stoking fear and saying if you don't vote, your safety is at risk. That's their closing argument. Underneath that argument for Republicans is that it really does appeal mainly to their base, which is White men, White women come out and vote.
The question is, are the Democrats using hope in this cycle to motivate their base? Most of what I have heard is, "Listen, give us 53 votes in the Senate, we'llll codify abortion or consider the alternative." What we've heard for women of color who are the base of the party, what the closing argument they want to hear from Democrats is they want to match the outrage with action, the challenge against the vote, the challenge of the rights, the fact that Republicans are openly mocking and normalizing political violence like you saw against Nancy Pelosi's husband.
This kind of thing, the closing argument needs to be, "Listen, your vote is going to translate into action." I don't think that's the closing argument that the Democrats have made as of yet. There's still time. Even though early voting is happening, I think in the next critical few days, people have to vote for something. Certainly, the base of the party feels that way.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Grace, how about you? Do you hear effective closing arguments, and also, effective closers, that the folks that are showing up and making these arguments resonate with the women that each of these parties are hoping to convince to show up to vote?
Grace Panetta: Yes, I think ultimately with midterm elections especially, it is a turnout game. It is getting people out to the ballot box, getting people to fill out those mail ballots that may have been sitting on their counters for a few days or weeks. Certainly, figures like former presidents, Obama and Trump, can be effective in that specific objective of rallying people and getting them out to vote. I think, to Aimee's point, what I see on both sides are a sense that you may not love what we're doing, but the alternative is worse.
For Democrats, they want to talk around the fact that yes, the economy for a lot of people is not great. Cost of living is way up but of course, voters don't want to hear, "Oh, these are global forces and we can't really do anything about it." Democrats' closing argument is essentially, "You may not love it, but the alternative is worse. Republicans don't have a plan either. They maybe want to gut social security and Medicare." That's a really last-minute closing argument from the Democratic side.
I think again, this hope and fear dynamic that Aimee mentioned for Republicans too, in addition to hammering Biden and the Democratic party on cost of living economics, which is top of mind issue for voters and woman voters, it's this last-minute leaning into issues like crime, like immigration, to bump up a little bit of that fear factor of, "You don't want to keep trusting these same leaders with the safety of your communities." It's a bit of both on both sides.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Yes, I got to say, "Well, you may not love us, but we're better than the alternative," is not exactly the most inspiring message, and it doesn't fit on a hat or a bumper sticker. We've been covering this midterm through SHElection. Campaigns, races were both of the candidates are women, and sometimes even all three of the candidates coming from really different standpoints, perspectives, policies. It does seem to belie this still flat way that parties, campaigns, and interest groups are responding to women voters. If the women candidates are standing in different places, so to must be the women voters. Aimee.
Aimee Allison: Yes. I think it's time to mature our understanding about women and our political role, and it's time to have more nuance around understanding this political moment. This isn't two parties arguing about a set of policies and us as voters deciding which one speaks to us more. In a lot of ways, just like in 2020, but especially now, it feels much more like you got a couple of choices as a woman, and you got to pick a side. Is it democracy, or is it political violence?
Is it democracy or is it white supremacy because underneath the immigration and the crime messages from the Republicans is a message about race and distrust of people of color. Is it democracy or is it voter suppression or election deniers? These are larger questions that really drive a zeitgeist amongst voters, amongst women voters. I just want to acknowledge in these days leading up to the midterm, what that is for us as women, the pain and the grief that a lot of us feel about the last three years, the last year, the economic pain, fear as we get reports of people being intimidated, just trying to vote early or in the general disappointment.
There is a way forward but we have to, as women, make these big decisions this year, and it feels very heavy and very pressing.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Aimee Allison is founder and president of She the People. It's a national network organizing women of color in American politics. Grace Panetta is a politics reporter at The 19th. The 19Th is a nonprofit newsroom covering gender, politics, and policy. Aimee, Grace, thank you both for joining us.
Aimee Allison: Thanks so much.
Grace Panetta: Thank you for having me.
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