The Myth of the Security Mom, Disputed

I read with interest Anna Greenberg’s column on The Myth of the Security Mom Revisited. With due respect to Dr. Greenberg and her significant contributions to the field, she seems to suggest that Security Moms don’t really exist, and perhaps that a growing concern about terrorism and national security may be an artificial construct.

Quite the contrary.

One major finding from the latest NBC/Wall Street Journal survey (September 3-7, 2014) is that more Americans feel less safe today than at any time since the 9/11 attack. It is no artifice that 52{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222} of women today feel that our country is less safe today than we were before September 11th.  In September of 2013, when asked the very same question, just 32{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222} of women say our country is less safe, and the number was 22{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222} who felt less safe in August 2011. It is difficult to conclude given a 30 point increase in the less safe feelings that there is nothing going on.

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And these women more concerned about our safety today cannot be dismissed as simply… Republicans. They are not. Among the women who feel less safe in the NBC/WSJ poll, 40{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222} are Democrat and 44{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222} are Republican. Apparently security concern does not know party labels.

This is echoed in focus groups across the country. Dr. Greenberg states that feelings of insecurity about international events are “tied up” with other security issues like school shootings in the Walmart Mom groups (which I moderate). These feelings are not tied up, they are heightened and greatly exacerbated by feelings of a loss of control internationally. We were not hearing about international events at the start of the year in focus groups. They are very much a part of the conversation today. In the Walmart Mom groups where participants can barely name the names of those running for office in hotly contested races, they absolutely know that Americans are being killed abroad and the danger that represents to our country.

Dr. Greenberg suggests that “we should not conflate an expression of concern about terrorism as a driver of vote choice.” Granted, national security issues may still take a back seat to domestic concerns, but they do contribute in meaningful ways to the total political environment; an environment in which 62{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222} of American people disapprove of the President’s handling of foreign policy.

What is also interesting in the Greenberg piece is that the dismissal of “Security Moms” as a narrative-of Republican-convenience comes from the party of the “Contraception Mom” and the “Anti-Personhood Moms.”   Both sides of the aisle use such narratives regularly to make strategic and tactical decisions.

Are not the very first and most frequent ads run in many Democratic campaigns around the country about Republicans who will take away every “women’s health care rights?” Has not Mark Udall run multiple ads in the Colorado Senate race on these issues alone? See below an excerpt from an editorial in this week’s Colorado Springs Gazette on the Democrat narrative:

Could someone please get Sen. Mark Udall a calendar. It’s 2014, not 1972…Udall’s daily fear mongering has become an obvious ploy to distract voters from the real issues in the U.S. Senate. A typical daily news release from his campaign Friday mentioned “birth control” 14 times. If he’s not fabricating a threat to contraception, he’s sending news releases that pretend abortion rights are in play.

In a survey conducted among women in swing Congressional districts earlier this year, just 6{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222} of women said that social issues like gay marriage and abortion were the most important priorities they would like to see the President and Congress address. (Incidentally, social issues tied with foreign policy and national security issues in importance.) Yet, social issues certainly drive Democrat campaign strategy. Why? Because charges leveled go to the heart of what campaigns are about – trust. In the same way that Democrats ask, who do you trust to protect your reproductive rights, Republicans are now asking who do you trust to protect your families from the terrorists?

The Answer: It’s not the President, or his party. While Democrats have a 28 point advantage on “looking out for the interests of women,” Republicans have an even larger 38 point advantage on “ensuring a strong national defense” and a significant 18-point advantage on “dealing with foreign policy” in the last NBC/WSJ survey.

In the America that has come to know ISIS in the aftermath of the gruesome deaths of two Americans, President Obama’s job approval is suffering, including among women voters where his disapproval number crossed 50{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222} for the first time (52{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222} disapprove). That does have electoral consequence even at the congressional level – Democrats enjoy their smallest congressional preference number (+7) measured over the last year among women, with a seven point drop from August that tracks the presidential approval slide (+14 Dem preference advantage in August).

Democrats might like their narratives better, but the narrative about Security Moms is real and a credible threat to Democrat campaigns.

Public Opinion Strategies