"Soccer Moms." This term struck as much fear into the hearts of
conservatives during the 1996 election campaign as "Angry White Men"
did in liberals in 1994. Conventional wisdom has it that the
limited-government policies of the GOP just did not resonate with
these suburban housewives, creating a gender gap that cost Bob Dole
dearly at the polls.
Why the apparent skepticism among women towards smaller
government, especially since in some polls they strongly favor
reducing taxes and cutting wasteful spending? Perhaps at least part
of the reason can be found in a joint Consumer Alert/Media Research
Center study of the publications that Soccer Moms read. Each month,
as they perused the pages of their favorite magazines, women were
not merely learning new recipes, the latest diet ideas, and how to
have better relationships with their husbands or boyfriends; they
were also often being told that government was the solution to most
of society's problems, and they were being urged to lobby for its
For the study, Consumer Alert and the Media Research Center
analyzed the October 1995 through September 1996 issues of thirteen
family and women's publications -- Better Homes & Gardens,
Family Circle, Glamour, Good Housekeeping,
Ladies' Home Journal, Mademoiselle, McCall's,
Parents, Prevention, Redbook, Weight
Watchers, Woman's Day, and Working Woman.
Overall, there were 115 positive portrayals of government
intervention in the market and/or calls for such intervention during
the study period. There were only 18 negative portrayals od
government intervention and/or calls for cutbacks in government
spending or regulation. There were five balanced portrayals of
Working Woman and Glamour were the most biased
in favor of expanding government. Each had 24 positive portrayals of
government activism compared to four negative portrayals. Good
Housekeeping was next with 15 stories promoting bigger
government and only three stories promoting smaller government;
Woman's Day had nine positive portrayals of government activism
and no negative portrayals.
Ladies' Home Journal was the most politically balanced
magazine in the study. Although the monthly ran ten stories
promoting bigger government, it also ran six promoting limited
government and ran four balanced stories. Two of the magazines,
Better Homes & Gardens and Prevention, almost
completely avoided public policy issues during the study period.
Health Care. Health-related issues brought forth the most calls
for government intervention. There were 28 such stories. Seven
focused on "drive-through deliveries," in which insurance companies
didn't pay for women to stay in the hospital for longer than one day
after giving birth. Good Housekeeping warned that "tiny
lives are at risk" and advised readers on "how you can help stop
this shocking practice." The magazine provided a form readers could
send to Congress to demand regulations extending hospital stays.
Seventeen stories demanded increased federal funding for medical
research into everything from AIDS to obesity to breast cancer, with
no mention of how this new spending would be paid for. It didn't
seem to matter because, according to Woman's Day, women had
a "right" to quality health care.
Urging Readers to Lobby the Government. Twenty-
three stories went beyond merely promoting bigger government as the
solution to problems; they also asked readers to contact Congressmen
or other government officials to lobby on behalf of bigger
government. Good Housekeeping provided
form letters ("Join the Good Housekeeping Lobby") that
merely needed a signature. After a June, 1996 story about
Christopher Reeve and his life since his equestrian accident, for
instance, Good Housekeeping provided a letter to Senator
Arlen Specter, chairman of the Senate Subcommittee on Labor, Health
and Human Services, and Education Appropriations.
Other publications, while not going to such elaborate lengths,
nonetheless prodded readers into lobbying for bigger government. Six
stories highlighted the "These Children Have Faces" campaign. Under
the headline "Has Congress Put Children in Danger?" the May
Glamour told readers that the group's founders "devised a plan
to let politicians know that children's allies are watching: They're
collecting photos of young people, with notes about their parents'
fears and hopes, and will deliver the pictures to Congress next
month." Glamour advised its readers on how to participate.
In a November 1, 1995 Woman's Day story about
osteoporosis, Dr. Marie Savard told readers to "urge your members of
Congress to work for more women's health research funding."
Woman's Day's other doctor, Dr. Loraine Stern, who writes the
"Your Child's Health" column, wrote: "If you agree that
immunizations should be fully covered for all children in
need, tell your insurance company and your representatives in
Washington." In March, Weight Watchers alerted readers to a
new advocacy group, the American Obesity Association, whose "first
priority is to lobby the federal government to spend more money on
obesity research." The magazine then told readers how to get in
touch with the group to help its cause.
Promoting Liberal Activists. Well-known liberal
activists and political figures were profiled or prominently
mentioned 18 times by these magazines. Marian Wright Edelman was the
clear favorite, being promoted in Family Circle, Good
Housekeeping, Mademoiselle, Parents, and
Working Woman. Family Circle seemed particularly
enamored with the Children's Defense Fund (CDF) founder, mentioning
her on four different occasions. The November 1 "From the Editor"
section featured a prayer drawn from Edelman's latest book; the May
14 issue gave Edelman the magazine's "Lifetime Achievement Award"
for such accomplishments as increasing Head Start funding; the June
4 issue promoted Edelman's "Stand for Children" march in Washington.
And when the editors of Family Circle picked the 25
best-selling books "that can change your life," a recent Edelman
book made the list.
Good Housekeeping also promoted Edelman's "Stand for
Children" march on Washington; Parents editor Ann Pleshette
Murphy pointed out with pride that Edelman won that magazine's first
"As They Grow Award," and Mademoiselle, in a sidebar to a
September article about poverty, urged readers to send a check to
the CDF and provided the group's address. At no point did any of
these publications question Edelman's policy prescriptions. They
could have pointed out, for example, that Census Bureau statistics
show that child poverty went down every year between 1983 and 1989,
when Ronald Reagan's policies, which Edelman opposed, were in
effect. But no critics or criticisms of Edelman were mentioned by
the women's magazines.
Some magazines had regular features to highlight liberals.
Glamour's "Women in Washington" column, for instance, reported
on the work of female representatives and senators -- but usually
only the ones who were working to expand the role of government. One
month, the column praised a host of female legislators for
increasing federal funding for child care "during last year's bitter
welfare debate." Another "Women in Washington" column expressed
relief that "while members of Congress were slashing funding for
almost all federally funded programs last fall and winter,
Congresswomen from both parties managed to engineer a triumph for
Two staffers at the magazines even became liberal activists for a
time, attending the United Nations' World Conference on Women in
Beijing. "What hit me...was the passionate belief shared by women
everywhere that we have a right to good health care," wrote Dr.
Marie Savard, who penned the "Your Health" section of Woman's
Day. Ladies' Home Journal editor-in-chief Myrna Blyth
also attended, writing that the evening after Hillary Rodham
Clinton's speech, the American delegation "got into a large circle,
held hands and sang some sixties-style folk songs."
"Redbook Strategy." The Clinton
campaign understood what an asset it had in family and women's
magazines. It pursued, according to U.S News & World Report,
a "Redbook strategy" aimed at courting the demographic
group to which most of the readers of women's and family magazines
belong. Redbook editor Kate White, in an article about "Why
you're the White House's secret weapon," wrote that she was
"flattered." But the magazines themselves, by promoting big
government, had laid the groundwork for such a strategy to be
successful. In doing so, they often misled their readers -- or
didn't give them the whole story -- about the downside of government
activism for women and families.