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What women want: Pollsters say it's substance and solutions

By Nicole McCleskey, Linda DiVall, and Kellyanne Conway
updated 12:42 PM EDT, Thu June 19, 2014
Despite perennial buzz in conservative cycles every presidential election year, Condoleezza Rice, a former secretary of state, has said she has no interest in the Oval Office. Click through the photos for insight on top-level political prospects for other GOP women. Despite perennial buzz in conservative cycles every presidential election year, Condoleezza Rice, a former secretary of state, has said she has no interest in the Oval Office. Click through the photos for insight on top-level political prospects for other GOP women.
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STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Republican pollsters say Democrats like to simplify issues when it comes to women
  • But, they say, reality is a bit more complex
  • Jobs and household finances rank at the top for women, according to a GOP poll
  • Democrats' appeal to women voters has been "Republicans don't like you," they say

Editor's note: Nicole McCleskey is a partner at Public Opinion Strategies. Linda DiVall is the founder and CEO of American Viewpoint. Kellyanne Conway is president and CEO of the polling company, inc./WomanTrend. They are also pollsters working with the Republican National Committee and National Republican Congressional Committee. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the authors.

(CNN) -- As pollsters, it's our job to keep a finger on the pulse of the American electorate. As women, we also take an interest in finding out what female voters are actually thinking. It's never as simple as commentators want you to think.

We know that Democrats like to reduce women down to single-issue voters. They like to talk about "the women's vote" as if it's a monolith.

As common as those talking points are, they offer a pretty unsophisticated view of women and what women want.

Recently we did a poll for the Republican National Committee and National Republican Congressional Committee of 1,206 women voters in battleground congressional districts. These are the districts that will see competitive races for seats in the House of Representatives this fall.

So what does our polling show? First, women's priorities run the gamut, but the most important issues involve jobs and household finances.

Second, the vast majority of women are upset with the status quo and express feelings that range from anger to apathy. No one, however, is satisfied.

To put that into a political context, that's bad news for the party that holds the White House. Democrats should be especially concerned, because their only discernible appeal to women voters has been "Republicans don't like you."

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It's a line devoid of substance, at a time when women voters desperately want action on issues of substance.

For years Democrats have fixated on a contrived "war on women" to connect with female voters. But that routine won't get them far today, given their abysmal effort to improve the lives of working families.

Contrary to what Democrats' rhetoric would suggest, the economy, government spending and health care rank as women's top priorities.

And current policies aren't cutting it. The survey also found that only 25% of women in these districts believe the country is headed in the right direction, while 67% say it's on the wrong track. A majority (53%) also disapprove of President Barack Obama's job performance.

On the economy, women are still looking for real solutions that offer women better work opportunities and will actually start growing our economy for all workers. They also endorse changes to our tax and retirement laws to allow them to keep more of what they earn and to help small business owners pursue their goals.

Opposition to Obamacare among women is high, with 55% opposing the Democrats' signature health care law. Just 41% support it. Importantly, those who oppose Obamacare feel much more strongly about it than those who support it. Forty-three percent strongly oppose the law, compared to just 22% who strongly support it. That's a significant enthusiasm gap that works in the favor of the Republican Party, the party that believes we can do better than Obamacare.

In other words, when our candidates oppose Obamacare and support real health care solutions, they are likely to find support among women. In the poll, women said they agree with some basic principles about health care, including the statement, "We need to start over and create real heath care reform that allows us to choose the plans we want, the doctors we need at the cost we can afford."

They reject the typical Washington one-size-fits-all approach and identify with the statement in the poll that "Obamacare doesn't allow women to make health care decisions for their families."

None of this is to say Republicans will have an easy go of it in November 2014 or 2016. There was a clear "gender gap" in 2012, with Obama winning the votes of a majority of women. That gap will not be erased overnight.

Yet in the last midterm election, in 2010, women favored Republicans over Democrats for the first time in modern history. Many of those same dynamics are at play in 2014.

Republicans do have an opportunity. When they make their case to voters, in this cycle and the next, the majority of female voters will be open to candidates who can present substance and solutions.

Simply saying "they don't like women" is a vapid political strategy that will not be effective for the other side.

For female voters, ideological debates also aren't seen as helpful. By and large they practice the politics of pragmatism. They're looking for leaders who are measured and solution-oriented in their approach.

The party that represents the status quo will be unacceptable to the majority of women voters. The party that provides meaningful, workable alternatives will have the advantage among women voters.

Republicans are the party best positioned to take on that role.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook.com/CNNOpinion.

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