The Virginia Governor's race is coming to a slow boil in the post-thesis environment. Polls show Democratic candidate Creigh Deeds narrowing the gap, in part because Deeds's television ads have begun to focus on McDonnell's problematic law school thesis, in full here, and written about here and here. But how have Virginians' attitudes toward the McDonnell's blueprint affected their views of the two candidates? And how can Deeds best capitalize on McDonnell's out-of-the-mainstream views?
Many have yet to learn about the thesis contents, and learning about it is good for Deeds
Recent polling shows about half of voters haven't heard about the controversy surrounding McDonnell's thesis. The Clarus research group poll showed 48% hadn't heard about the thesis, but those who had were more likely to feel unfavorable than favorable toward McDonnell as a result. This recent Washington Post poll showed over half (54%) to know "just some" or "hardly anything" about the thesis. And when read some about the thesis, they too become more unfavorable toward McDonnell. Further, this strong Washington Post analysis of the poll shows awareness of the thesis is even lower among younger women--who are particularly likely to find the contents objectionable. There is clearly more room for growth on the thesis argument, and those who hear about the thesis seem to move away from McDonnell.
McDonnell wrote about the scourge of working women--a far out of the mainstream view
McDonnell's thesis included a wide range of extreme views on everything from abortion, homosexuals, birth control for married couples, an unusual use of the word "fornicator," and the opposition of working women. This last point--his views toward working women, represents a huge departure from attitudes toward and the reality of work and gender.
But don't take my word for it. In his own words, McDonnell calls working women, "detrimental to the family." He ridicules "some women's" desire for "individual self-actualization," "workplace equality," and "the private choices of individuals to increase their family income." He laments, "Must government subsidize the choices of a generation of with an increased appetite for the materialistic components of American society?" By singling out women at fault, McDonnell implies that when men try to increase their family income, it is not materialistic.
It is obvious to most, of course, that many women have no choice but to work. Some are widows, or unmarried or never married, are caretakers for parents, or have husbands or partners who have lost their jobs. But also, many women simply would prefer to work. A 2007 Gallup poll showed more women would prefer to work rather than stay at home if they were free to do either. And recent labor statistics confirm what we know to be true; women, mothers or not, participate in the workforce in huge numbers. More than 70% of women aged 35 to 44 are employed. These findings highlight how out of touch McDonnell is with how women live their lives.
It's also important here to stress that McDonnell wrote of working women, not just working mothers. Not that working mothers are necessarily controversial, although some debate the costs and benefits for one's personal circumstances. But as we've written elsewhere, voters want to see more help to working mothers, not less.
But this particular extreme view needs more exposure
Public polling on the race doesn't quite capture voters' attitudes toward the full panoply of McDonnell's extreme views. The Washington Post poll described the thesis this way: "In his thesis, McDonnell criticized working mothers and homosexuals as detrimental to families and urged the promotion of traditional values through government. McDonnell calls this not in-line with his current views while Deeds says this shows McDonnell's real positions on these issues. " This description lacks some precision by replacing "working women" with "working mothers," and it does not measure reactions to McDonnell's extreme view that women do not have the right to workplace equality, or to increase their family's income.
Of Deeds two recent televised ads on the thesis, only one mentions, briefly, the thesis's points on working women. (There is an excellent video on his website, however, which you can view here.) Instead, much of Deeds's advertising ties McDonnell's position in the thesis on birth control and abortion, to his sponsoring 35 bills restricting a woman's right to choose.
I understand the need to attach McDonnell's thesis to his votes in office. The large number of sponsored bills shows the thesis was more than an "academic exercise" as McDonnell claims, but an actual "blueprint" for his political career. But McDonnell also voted against getting tough on gender discrimination at the workplace, and against improvements to day care that would help working women. And while McDonnell is certainly to the right of most Virginians when he opposes abortion in cases of rape and incest, abortion is still the more controversial topic.
McDonnell's thesis response ad further belies his views toward women. In his own defense, he touts his work cracking down on child predators and domestic violence. While those are undoubtedly important, as his only legislative defense, it suggests McDonnell views women chiefly needing to protection from physical danger, rather than from economic inequities. The Deeds campaign should keep McDonnell defending his thesis all the way through November; they might well be preparing to shift to the working women argument in the remaining weeks.
Even on the hit show Mad Men, set in a 1960s New York ad agency where blackface is accepted and homosexuality is not, women have entered the workforce. If 1963 is too modern by Bob McDonnell's politics, then what does that say about his plan for Virginia's future?
Update (10/15) and subsequent interests disclosed: Partly because of the work I did for this post, I am now part of a group called "Working Women for Virginia" that is raising money to educate voters about Republican candidate Bob McDonnell's extreme views. We have a video up here.
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