Men have been trying to court women for as long as anyone can remember, whether it is in friendship, romance or even for their vote. Once women entered the political scene they became another coveted demographic for politicians to win over. This demographic has recently become increasingly more important in political elections and some have even argued that women have decided every presidential election since 1980.
As Jeffrey Alexander says in The Performance of Politics,” Struggles for power project meanings and styles to citizen audiences both nearby and far away and who are fragmented in all the familiar demographic ways. Winning power depends on creating performances that successfully breach these supposedly great divides” (18). There is one way that male politicians have found they can breach this divide with the woman voter, through their wives. Although men usually take center stage in political campaigns they have embraced their wives as their leading ladies and realized it is for their benefit to share the spotlight with them.
Looking back at the 2004 election between George W. Bush and John Kerry an interesting technique was used to garner the female vote. The technique was called the “surrogate campaign.” It was when the presidential and vice-presidential candidates from both parties featured their wives in their appearances and giving them their own speaking engagements, particularly in key battleground states. The “surrogate campaign” takes these women out of their supporting roles and sets them on center stage. This allows for the wives to give their own performances to help their husbands get elected and gain support from the targeted groups (mostly other women) that the candidates themselves couldn’t completely relate to. There were even parts of the campaign handbooks dedicated to the “surrogate strategy.” In the Democrat’s Florida Victory 2004 handbook, “It identified female voters as one of the key constituency groups to be targeted by the surrogate program and even identified the specific media markets (Orlando, Tampa, Daytona) where surrogates that would appeal to women should be taken.” It is important to note that although women were the main group targeted by this strategy; other demographic groups were targeted using this strategy as well. The Republican Party used the same tactic to get more volunteers for the campaign by making sure Laura Bush attended large speaking events.
This idea of the “surrogate campaign” translates into the 2012 election for both candidates, but is even more visible in Mitt Romney’s campaign. Although Michelle Obama still plays a key role in the reelection of President Obama she was already established as his leading lady in 2008. Therefore Obama’s campaign already has a “surrogate campaign” set up for Michelle that she can continue to follow into this election season. The Hilary Rosen comments earlier in the primary campaign season created an opening for Ann Romney to start being a major actor in the campaign. Since she was personally called out it allowed for the spotlight to be focused on her for a while and for Mitt to gain women’s support by defending his wife. Many women who are stay-at-home moms related to Ann during this time and it helped give Mitt a boost in this key demographic group. Since then Romney’s campaign has started to give more focus to Ann. A few examples are: some internet ads that say “Stand with Mitt’s better half,” and she even has her own section on the front page of his campaign site called “Meet Ann.” There was also a lot of buzz when she created a Pinterest account and a Twitter account which she used to speak out against what Rosen said. By putting Ann on the same level as Mitt in the campaign she is able to perform on new mediums directly linked to women on his behalf. The campaign site helps women get to know Ann a little better and the targeted ads lead to the website, but a key tactic for the Romney campaign is Ann’s Pinterest and Twitter accounts.
Pinterest and Twitter are two of the fastest growing new media sites right now. Pinterest’s average user is women between ages 25-44. By having Ann on this site and generating buzz around it she can relate directly to those women that are also on the site that Mitt is trying to win over in his campaign. On Pinterest Ann is putting on her own performance as an average housewife. She has boards that are crafts/DIY, recipes, books worth reading, family and a few campaign related boards. By not having her Pinterest account completely revolve around the campaign it makes her seem “average.” Twitter is also an effective place for Ann to be because its reach is vast and it is where a good portion of political discourse is taking place.
Another reason the “surrogate campaign” is effective is because the wives are usually more popular with the public than the candidates themselves. In the latest ABC News/Washington Post poll both Michelle Obama and Ann Romney are more popular than their husbands in the public eye. This tends to be because even though these ladies might be giving political performances just like their husbands, theirs seem more genuine to the public.
Not only are the Presidential campaigns reaching out to women this election season, but even ballot referendums are recognizing women voters are extremely important. In North Carolina, the Amendment One “No” side has worked hard to gain support from women. They have done so in their messaging, hitting home with not only lesbian women, but also straight women by framing this amendment as harming children and including information about it possibly effecting domestic violence claims if it is passed. They have also done this by using Pinterest much for the same reasons as the presidential candidates.
As women become increasingly a more important role in the candidate’s strategic eyes to win over in elections, male candidates are going to need to continue to share the stage with their wives. In the public eye these “leading ladies” are giving the performance of a lifetime with the award being a stay in the White House. The words are carefully chosen the cities visited are those where her performance will rally support, and overall the wives of candidates are a valuable piece to the performance. The average woman voter seeks a candidate with a leading lady that is “like us” and will stand for us.