Why Romney is Winning the Women's Vote
It is a poorly kept secret among students of female psychology that women are not attracted so much to beautiful men as they are attracted to men who are accompanied by beautiful women.
That is not to say that appearances don't matter to the ladies. Of course they do. The macho man in a tank top or the smooth-talking metrosexual guy in an Yves St. Laurent suit will garner that interested second look. A handsome face, a good body, a whiff of money -- these are all promising entries in a man's résumé.
But in the mating and dating world, the advantages of a pleasing exterior don't go as far for guys as they do for girls. It's great for a guy to be the eye candy at the party. But in most cases, eye candy or not, the guy has still got an interview ahead (perhaps several) before he can land that coveted position with his lady of choice.
Now, on the other hand, suppose that you are lucky enough to be accompanied one evening by a beautiful woman. Suppose you sashay into that party, larger than life, with your beautiful (let's say) blonde in a flashy red dress, clinging to your arm, and suppose (here's the killer) that as you enter the room, she is laughing at something you just said! Well, then...you, my friend, have been certified. Your lovely companion has placed your name at the top of all the lists in the room. Those other guys have got a flashy résumé -- you've got a golden reference letter.
What you do with it, of course, is up to you.
In 2008, President Obama earned 56% of the women's vote to John McCain's 43%. But polling shows that Mitt Romney has now pulled even with Barack Obama among female voters. As with the polls in general, much of this shift has occurred since Romney's sterling debate performance on October 3. Surely the same factors that persuaded many men in that debate persuaded many women as well: Romney's confidence and clarity of vision, his manifest concern for people and love for America, his display of mastery on economic issues. There has been a lot of talk also about how the debate humanized Mitt; once a supposedly plutocratic robot -- a Latter-Day Saint, no less -- now a man with obvious empathy for the plight of regular folks. Arguably this humanization of Mitt worked more with the female voters than with the males.
Surely "women's" issues are important, too. Insofar as moderate female voters have bought into the Obama theme of a Republican War on Women, certainly in both debates, Romney significantly blunted that attack and reassured them (regarding contraception, for example) that he is not the boogeyman he was portrayed to be.
But what makes elections so fascinating is how multidimensional they are and how we voters combine information from so many levels to make our choices. Doubtless for voters in the middle, who are not enthralled by one ideology or another, more ephemeral considerations are often just as important as bread-and-butter issues.
Which brings us to Ann Romney.
If women were convinced in large numbers, after the first debate, to switch their fragile allegiance from Obama to Romney, if Romney was able, in just those ninety minutes, to convey the "man behind the candidate," then probably those women suspected already that there might be a special man hiding in there. And the seeds of that suspicion were sown on the evening that Ann Romney gave her curtsying, bubbling, and steely-eyed performance at the GOP convention.
Ann Romney is beautiful and intelligent. She moves gracefully and even bounces a bit like a girl (which would seem to be surprising, given that she has MS), and (incidentally, very much like Mitt) she uses her hands elegantly to express herself -- as though with every explanation she is conducting a little classical music ensemble. She confidently holds a small gathering or a massive convention audience in the palm of her hand while, if you are lucky enough to be present, you never lose the conviction that she is just so charmed to be here with you. Kipling probably had someone like her in mind when he wrote: "If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue, Or walk with kings -- nor lose the common touch."
At a recent lunch fundraiser in Boston, I was in fact lucky enough to hear Ann Romney speak. She spoke with dry eyes about David Oparowski, the 14-year-old boy whom Mitt Romney visited in the hospital as he was dying from non-Hodgkins lymphoma. She talked about how Mitt formed a deepening relation with David and ultimately, at David's request, how he wrote out David's will. She spoke about who would get David's skateboard, who would get the other prized possessions. She spoke about David asking Mitt what death was going to be like, and she relayed some of the words that Mitt had used to comfort the frightened boy. She told of how David asked Mitt to give the eulogy at his funeral.
Trust me: even if you've heard the story before, it is wrenching to hear her tell it. I wonder why she chose to tell that story to a room full of devoted Republicans who are going to donate to and vote for Romney anyway. Maybe it was a personal piece of their lives that she was giving to us, as a thanks for support. Or maybe it is her way of communicating that we, Ann and Mitt, are people for whom some things are far deeper and more important than politics. You can, therefore, trust that we will not sell our soul for the whole universe, nor for Wales.
In the waning days of the campaign, Team Obama will do everything they can to recover the lost women's vote. And I imagine that the campaign is convinced that the Obama "visuals" remain a winning asset. Sometimes I even fancy that they keep a small group of consultants working around the clock on Obama-sex-appeal subliminal messages to undecided women.
I don't really know how or if they can convert Obama's beauty into success at the polls.
What I do know is this: the biggest reason why women trust Mitt Romney is because Mitt has Ann. She is the beautiful blonde who is clinging to his arm as they enter the room, and yes, she seems to be laughing at something he just said.
The author is a nanophysicist at Harvard University. He ran for Congress in MA-03 in 2010.