5 Fragen an… LISA MAATZ

In regelmäßigen Abständen stellt Amerika wählt renommierten Wahlkampfexperten fünf Fragen zu einem aktuellen Anlass. Für die zweite Ausgabe von “5 Fragen an…” hat sich Nina Keim mit Lisa Maatz über den “Faktor Frau” US-Wahlkampf unterhalten.

1. Women’s issues have prompted discussion in the political sphere on subjects including reproductive health, contraception and career choices. Generally speaking, what are female voters looking for in a presidential candidate and how do they differ from male voters?

I think this has been a very interesting year because the campaign and especially the Republican primaries have been like a time warp with regards to women’s issues. The whole discussion about birth control and whether it should be acceptable and it is ok to take it has been very frustrating to older women, because they already fought that battle and thought they were done. The discussions also opened the eyes of younger women who assumed that those rights are simply going to be there and no one wants to take them away. So, I think women’s reproductive health has really taken a center stage in this election, but in a different way than before. It is not just about abortion but has been expanded to the issues of birth control and medical care. And this is a good thing. The other issue that really resonates with women voters is the entire job issue surrounding equal pay and job creation.

2. Recent polls show a sizable gender gap in voters’ support. With the race between Obama and Romney being very close, could female voters become a decisive factor on election day?

 There is no question that women are going to decide this election not just on the presidential level, but also on the congressional and state level, too. The gender gap  is decisive enough because it works in multiple ways. First, there is a gap that more women vote than men, which leads to a numerical advantage. Second, there is a gap on who they vote for. Women tend to vote more Democratic than their male counterparts. The gender gap has been a huge part of American politics since 1980, when it was first discovered. But this year in particular we are seeing some really huge swings among women. Specifically the issue of birth control has a large impact, because this is something that pretty much every woman can relate to.

3. When Mitt Romney ran for the U.S. Senate in Massachusetts, he backed abortion rights. As a presidential candidate, he now has opposed abortion rights. To what extend has his change in opinion impacted the support of female voters?

I certainly think it has become clear to everybody that Mitt Romney does not seem to have a political compass. There is no security on what his opinion or his stances will be. He relies on what his party’s base wants him to stand for rather than on his own convictions. For women specifically the trust factor is an issue. Mitt Romney changed his opinion so much, so how are women going to trust in what he says. On the other side, the race is still very close, because you can never underestimate the hatred of Obama among certain folks in the United States. So essentially, there are going to be a lot of people who vote Republican, not because they are voting for Mitt Romney but because they are voting against Barack Obama. I think it was Rush Limbaugh who said, this election is not about Mitt Romney, it is about getting Barack Obama out of office.

4. In the U.S. voters are required to register to vote before actually casting a ballot. Are there special campaigns targeted at female voters to get them to register?

There are a lot of campaigns out there to get women to register to vote. This year there is also a big emphasis not just on voter registration but also on the educational efforts on identification requirements in whatever state the audience is in. While there are partisan voter registration campaigns, there are also nonpartisan efforts like the campaign at AAUW. We don’t tell the people how to vote, we just want them to register and we want to make sure they go to the polls. The AAUW campaign is called “It’s My Vote: I Will Be Heard”. It is specifically targeting millennial women aged 18-31. One part of the reason why AAUW wants to target younger women is that even though there is a gender gap in this generation as well, younger people are less likely to go to vote in the United States. One of the things we know about voting is that it is a habit for you. If you are doing it on a regular basis when you are young, you will continue to do it throughout your life. So what AAUW is trying to do with the campaign is to insert this habit. In addition, if we know that young women cast their votes, we know that issues women care about will be discussed. AAUW has about 1,000 branches and about 150,000 members and supporters throughout the country who are all integrated in the campaign. We are organizing, for example, voter registration drives on college campuses, in public libraries and community centers to try to register as many people as we can.

Now that we are moving more into the voter education phase, because some of the voter registration deadlines are starting to pass, we are providing information about the candidates and about the issues. On September 26 for example, we released our AAUW voter tool kit, which includes voter guides comparing head to head the two candidates on a variety of issues and also a first-term analysis of the Obama administration on women’s issues. By publishing these tools we hope to mobilize people and make sure they go to the polls.

5. As a nonpartisan organization, AAUW does not endorse candidates. However, AAUW was present at both the RNC and DNC. What were the key comments AAUW provided to the Republican and Democratic party platform?

Providing comments to the party platform and going to the conventions is still a nonpartisan activity to us. We are not there to endorse either party but to network and to further our own mission, to educate people about what AAUW does and the issues we care about. Based on AAUW’s member-endorsed public policy program, which we renew every two years and have our members vote on, we developed public policy principles and submitted them in comment form to the party platforms. The comments to the Democratic platform were much more specific, mostly because we could respond to initiatives taken and attempt to make them a bit more nuanced to point them in the right direction. On the Republican side we had to be more basic, since we are still trying to convince them of the appropriateness of our positions and issues such as equal pay for equal work or paid sick days for example.

Lisa Maatz is the Director of Public Policy and Government Relations at the American Association of University Women (AAUW). Since1881, AAUW has been the nation’s leading voice promoting equity for all women and girls through research, education, advocacy and philanthropy. Maatz works to advance AAUW’s priority issues on Capitol Hill, in the White House, and in coalition with other organizations. She has done similar work for the NOW Legal Defense and Education Fund and the Older Women’s League, and was a legislative aide to U.S. Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney (D-NY). Her grassroots advocacy career began when she was the Executive Director of Turning Point, a battered women’s program recognized for excellence by the Ohio Supreme Court. You can follow @LisaMaatz and @AAUWPolicy on Twitter.