Will women vote in 2012? Will women organize and volunteer? Will women run for office? The answers will decide our future. (More)

This week’s Morning Feature schedule is different. Thursday we discussed President Obama’s Afghanistan policy. Friday we had a special Friday edition of “Ask Ms. Crissie.” Yesterday we began a series of reports from the 2011 NOW Conference. We continue that series today and will conclude it tomorrow.

Daring to Dream NOW, Part II – The 2012 Landscape

2010 was a tough election for women. The number of women in Congress declined, as did the number of women in state legislatures and in state executive branch offices. The Tea Party wave swept in conservatives who introduced bills targeting education, organized labor, reproductive freedom, and the social safety net. Each of these issues disproportionately affects women.

In the wake of Citizens United

Alice Cohan, the political director of the Feminist Majority Foundation, began by reviewing the opposition empowered by the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling last January that outside political spending was protected speech in Citizens United vs. Federal Elections Commission. The Court overturned a rule that prohibited outside ads supporting or opposing a specific candidate in the last 30 days before an election, so long as the outside ads are not coordinated with a candidate’s campaign.

Cohan cited the network of corporate-funded groups who funded the Tea Party: Americans for Prosperity, FreedomWorks, the Independent Women’s Forum and Club for Growth, and the Koch Foundation. These groups both magnified Tea Party activists’ media impact in 2009 and financed Tea Party candidates in the 2010 midterms. While polls show diminishing public support for the Tea Party, Cohan said they and their corporate sponsors would still be major forces in 2012.

Melanie Campbell, president of the National Coalition for Black Civic Participation, then spoke about the Republicans’ assault on voting rights. As Democratic National Committee Chair Debbie Wasserman-Schultz (D-FL) wrote Thursday, the GOP campaign to suppress voting with stricter registration and voter ID laws spread across the country. Budget-strapped states are spending tens of millions of dollars to implement “reforms” to “stop voter fraud,” an almost non-existent problem. Campbell said women must join with young and minority voters to fight back and preserve the most fundamental of civic rights: the right to vote.

What women want

Celinda Lake of Lake Research Partners then discussed the decline in women’s voting in 2010, and the issues that matter to women in 2012. Not surprisingly, the economy was the #1 issue for women. Her polling found that 71% of women said the economy was hurting their lives, and 56% said the government must play a role in fixing the economy. Six-in-ten women believe President Obama has not focused enough on the economy, and a plurality of women (48%) want to keep or extend the 2010 Affordable Care Act. Conversely, 58% of men want to repeal part or all of the ACA.

Surprisingly, Lake’s polling found that more men than women support cuts in defense spending. Even more surprising were her exit poll results from 2010. Her firm asked voters if they blamed President Obama, President Bush, or Wall Street for the recession. Predictably, those who blamed President Obama were more likely to vote for Republicans, and those who blamed President Bush were more likely to vote for Democrats. The shock came from voters who blamed Wall Street … they voted for Republicans by a 16-point margin.

To mobilize women for 2012, Lake said, candidates and activists must focus on “kitchen table economics” and draw clearer links between Republican policies and our sluggish economy.

“She should run”

We also need more women as candidates, said Siobhan (Sam) Bennett of the Women’s Campaign Forum. She cited studies on the differences in men and women considering public office:

Walk up to a man on the street and say the local school board needs candidates, and he’s likely to say he’ll run. Ask him about his qualifications for the school board, and he’ll usually say he has none. Ask him again if he’ll run, and he’ll still say “Yes.”

Then ask a woman with a Ph.D in education. She’ll say “I’m not qualified.”

Indeed, 56% of women candidates – compared to only 29% of men candidates – say they never seriously considered running for office until someone else asked them to run. And it’s not enough to ask once. Studies have found that, on average, women need to be asked six times before they decide to run for political office. Yet women who do run win as often as men and women in public office are more likely to vote for progressive legislation.

Bennett said that, for women who are disappointed with President Obama, the choice in 2012 is “between Obama and Awfulness,” and she called on women to “talk the Hillary supporters out of the trees.”

And Bennett said women who run should bookmark Name It Change It, a website for calling out sexist attacks. Polls show that women candidates who challenge such attacks not only stop their opponents from repeating them, but also gain voter support.

“I’m an optimist”

Finally we heard from Lois Frankel, who is running for the U.S. House in Florida’s 22nd District. Frankel was elected to the Florida House in 1986 and served for 14 years, rising to become the first Democratic woman to serve as Minority Leader. In 2003 she was elected Mayor of West Palm Beach, and in 2007 won her second term.

Frankel is challenging Rep. Allen West (R-FL), a Tea Party favorite and Army veteran, who was fined $5000 and forced to retire in 2003 after firing a pistol near the head of an Iraqi prisoner during an interrogation. In April, Rep. West accused progressive women of “neutering men” and said the proper role of women is to “strengthen up the men who are going to fight for you.”

Frankel noted that her son joined the Marine Corps after graduating from the University of Florida, and has served in Iraq and Afghanistan. “West may have made it to lieutenant colonel,” she quipped, “but my son made it to the Marines.”

She said the choice in 2012 is clear. “Republicans are using the deficit as a distraction from problems real people face every day. But I’m an optimist. I really believe that government – if it stays out of our bedrooms – can do a lot of good.”

When women like Frankel serve in government … that’s very true.

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Happy Sunday!