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The Role of Public Relations in Politics is a monthly column written by WWPR member Margaret Mulvihill. Her column examines the role of PR in politics through history.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect those of Washington Women in Public Relations.

Why are politics and public relations so closely linked? The roots of this close linkage are grounded in history, and over the decades, have become so interwoven that it is difficult at times to figure out which is which, especially during active mid-term season. When it comes to the putative ‘War on Women’, which the Democratic Party has been accusing the Republican party of waging, it is really difficult to figure out which came first – the media or the politics.

This 2014 election cycle is a very crowded, active cycle. According to the interactive almanac of U.S. politics, BallotPedia, “A total of 471 seats in the U.S. Congress (36 Senate seats, including three special elections, and all 435 House seats) are up for election on November 4, 2014.” That translates to a lot of public relations, of spin, promotion, and electioneering – whatever you care to call it, we are not going to be able to avoid it.

Republicans and Democrats shared an equal number of female politicians some thirty years ago. In the intervening years, the Democrats have increased their representation significantly, at the expense of the Republican Party.  This encouraged the Republican leadership to create a program specifically for women – GROW (Growing Republican Opportunities for Women), to encourage more women to run for Congress.  Since its inception last summer, GROW has not been especially successful. The Democrats are not faring any better in their efforts.

Women are voting in much greater numbers than men, a statistic that has held firm for the past thirty-some years. Are they not voting for women? Are women candidates not ‘reaching’ women voters across the issues? Women were a key voting block for President Barack Obama, yet when it comes to women candidates, the voters tend to stay home.  There still appears to be a paucity of support and resources available for women candidates in both parties.

Democrats have made it very clear that the “war on women” playbook will be key to their efforts this fall in electing and re-electing representatives. The majority of candidates will be male representatives, attempting to appeal to women voters on traditional women’s issues.  In the last election cycle, we were bombarded daily – hourly even – in every competitive race, with television advertisements about abortion, birth-control access, the defunding of Planned Parenthood. Where are the women?

Republicans are actively trying to appeal to women, both as candidates and as voters, to cut into the perceived Democratic advantage created by the ‘War on Women’. Yet GOP congressional leaders have not, as yet, released any comprehensive women’s agenda. Within that void, conservative radio stations and media outlets are openly calling out the Democratic hypocrisy on the ‘War on Women’. Journalists are pointing to races where women candidates are being ignored by the Democratic Party in favor of male incumbents whose seats are at risk. (As in the Massachusetts Sixth Congressional District, for example.) This enduring double-standard makes it very difficult for anyone capable of a basic thought process to take the party seriously when it claims that the Republican Party is the one waging a ‘War on Women.’

I think most of us women would agree that neither of the two main political parties in this country are providing us with the representation that we need, as we make our way towards the end of the second decade of the twenty-first century. This makes the War on Women, whether individually perceived as real or media-driven, a sideshow, distracting us from the real issues we need to face.

Is there a (Spin)doctor in the house?