Planned Parenthood Action Fund's $1.4 million ad campaign spotlighting Mitt Romney's positions on women's issues is making an impression on the opinions of female voters in key swing states, according to post-run ad testing commissioned by the group.
According to Hart Research surveys conducted in West Palm Beach, Fla., and Des Moines, Iowa, before and after PPAF's ads ran, women who definitely recalled seeing the ads (half of women in Florida, 55 percent in Iowa) said that they were far less likely to vote for Romney than women who did not recall seeing the ads. The number of women in both states who responded that Mitt Romney is "out of step with my opinions on issues affecting women" increased by 11 percent after the PPAF ad campaign ran.
The ad campaign, launched on May 31, targeted Romney's record on two key issues: abortion and contraception rights, and equal pay for women. The survey also asked about women's view of Romney on those specific issues. Before the ads ran, 48 percent of the women surveyed in West Palm Beach said Romney was out of step with their opinions on abortion, and 32 percent said he was out of step on protecting equal pay. After the ads ran, those numbers rose to 58 and 40 percent, respectively. The numbers were similar in Des Moines.
Most significantly, in the post-ad survey, women in both states offered criticisms of Romney that came directly from Planned Parenthood's ads without actually referencing the ads, suggesting that those messages made a lasting impression. Three out of five of the most frequently volunteered criticisms of Romney were points specifically highlighted by the ads: his desire to overturn Roe v. Wade, his plan to eliminate Planned Parenthood funding and his stance (or lack thereof) on equal pay.
"We already knew that the contrast between President Obama and Mitt Romney couldn't be starker when it comes to women's health, but this data shows beyond a shadow of a doubt that swing women voters strongly agree, and that they are far less likely to vote for Mitt Romney when they hear about his extreme views on women's health issues," Dawn Laguens, executive vice president of PPAF, told The Huffington Post. "The results of this polling provide yet one more reason why we are seeing a gender gap in this race."
Eric Fehrnstrom, senior campaign adviser for Mitt Romney, said on Sunday that issues pertaining to women's reproductive rights, such as abortion and birth control, were "shiny objects" meant to distract voters from the real issues. "Mitt Romney is pro-life," he told ABC's George Stephanopoulos. "He'll govern as a pro-life president, but you're going to see the Democrats use all sorts of shiny objects to distract people's attention from the Obama performance on the economy. This is not a social issue election."
The Senate will vote Thursday on the Paycheck Fairness Act, which would expand and strengthen the Equal Pay Act of 1963 and make it illegal for employers to punish women for bringing up pay disparity issues. Dana Perino, a Fox News contributor and former press secretary for President George W. Bush, called the equal pay issue "a distraction" from the country's real financial problems last week. "Well, it's just yet another distraction of dealing with the major financial issues that the country should be dealing with," Perino said. "This is not a job creator."
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), whose home state's legislature recently defunded Planned Parenthood and voted to pass a bill that would allow employers to deny women birth control coverage, delivered a floor speech in which he insisted that the war on women is something imaginary for Democrats to "sputter about." "My friends, this supposed 'War on Women' or the use of similarly outlandish rhetoric by partisan operatives has two purposes, and both are purely political in their purpose and effect: The first is to distract citizens from real issues that really matter and the second is to give talking heads something to sputter about when they appear on cable television," he said.
Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus tried to trivialize concerns about the legislative "war on women" by comparing it to a "war on caterpillars." "If the Democrats said we had a war on caterpillars and every mainstream media outlet talked about the fact that Republicans have a war on caterpillars, then we'd have problems with caterpillars," Priebus said in an April interview on Bloomberg Television. "It's a fiction."
Missouri U.S. Senate candidate Sarah Steelman (R) took heat from her opponents in May when she contended that Democratic lawmakers' focus on the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act was "a distraction" from the issues they should be dealing with instead. "I think it's unfortunate that the Democrats have made a political football out of this thing, which I think is what they keep doing to distract from real problems that are facing our nation," she said in an interview with St. Louis Public Radio.
South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley (R) defended the Republican Party in April for going after insurance coverage for contraception by arguing that women don't actually care about contraception. "Women don't care about contraception," she said on ABC's The View. "They care about jobs and the economy and raising their families and all those other things."