Ann Romney vs. Michelle Obama

And what they wanted to achieve with their speeches.

Questions:

1. Both Ann Romney and Michelle Obama got an important talking spot at the respective party conventions. What’s the reason for that?

2. Can the wives of the candidates have some impact on voters’ decision making and if yes, how significant?

3. If you compare the speeches of both Ann Romney last week and Michelle Obama tonight, who of them fared better?

Answers:

Lisa BurnsProfessor of Communications/Media Studies, Quinnipiac University

1. Candidates’ wives are used to reach out to both women and undecided voters. Their job is to reveal the more personal side of their husbands and make them more relatable. They are in the best position to give us insight into their husband’s character. Mrs. Romney spoke directly to mothers and tried to convince them that her husband understands how difficult their lives have been in this tough economy. She also told us that her husband is caring, compassionate, and hard working. Mrs. Obama also showed us a more personal side of the President, telling the audience how he reads letters from citizens talking about their struggles and how he can relate with many of their concerns because of his own upbringing. She also talked about his accomplishments, but admitted that change is hard and takes time, and asked voters to believe in her husband’s ability to finish the job.

2. I don’t think that anyone votes for the spouse, but a candidate’s wife can definitely help, or hurt, their husband’s campaigns. The spouses are often the best surrogates for the candidate. They are usually very good at raising money. On the campaign trail, they often address smaller groups of specific voters, particularly women. But they are also very effective on the big stage because they can rise above the partisan politics and talk about the man and his hopes, his dreams, and his accomplishments. Mrs. Romney focused on her husband’s success as a businessman and as a public servant. Mrs. Obama talked about her husband’s working class roots, stressing that he understands the struggles facing many Americans. Both women were successful in exciting the crowd and making their husbands more likable, which is an important factor in U.S. elections.

3. It’s hard to compare the two speeches because each woman was faced with a different task. Mrs. Romney needed to introduce her husband to many American voters. She also needed to connect with women voters, who tend to favor President Obama. By speaking directly to mothers, Mrs. Romney helped to voice some of the frustrations facing American women. Mrs. Obama had a tougher job. She needed to convince voters to believe in her husband again and to trust him with four more years in office. She wanted to remind the audience why they liked Barack Obama in the first place and stressed that they can trust him to keep the country moving forward. I think that both women were successful in accomplishing their goals, but Mrs. Obama was very persuasive in presenting her message to the audience. Her call for action at the end of the speech, urging people to vote, received a huge reaction from the crowd. If she continues to motivate voters at the grassroots level, she could make a significant difference in voter turnout on Election Day.

 Myra GutinProfessor of Communication, Rider v University, Author of the book – The President’s Partner: The First Lady in the Twentieth Century

1. The invitations to Michelle Obama and Ann Romney to speak at their respective political conventions may be attributed to the growing influence of women in politics and the numbers of women who go to the polls. Spouses have the ability to provide listeners with a special understanding of the candidate, his strengths and accomplishments. A spouse attests to the candidate’s character. Is he a good person? A good father? Is he honest? Is he hard-working? Most first ladies or first lady aspirants are more popular than their husbands (Barack Obama’s approval rate is in the 40% range—Michelle Obama is at 66% approval) and can generate interest in and enthusiasm for the candidate.

2. While decisions about who to vote for are not based on the first lady or potential first lady alone, spouses attest to the character of a candidate, and character is part of an electoral decision. Americans do not vote for a presidential candidate based on who will be first lady.

3. Both women gave good speeches, but I would give the edge to Michelle Obama. Ann Romney effectively introduced her husband to the American people, but as the former first lady of Massachusetts, she had never spoken to a huge international audience. Michelle Obama made the case for how her husband had done a good job in his first term as President and was especially well qualified to help the middle class. Her delivery was electrifying, and there was no doubt that she was the high point of the first evening of the Democratic national convention.

Matthew Eshbaugh-SohaAssistant Professor, Department of Political Science, University of North Texas

1. For Ann Romney, the purpose was very specific: to help make her husband more appealing to women. Her personal testimony becomes important for those who might have doubts about Mitt Romney’s respect for women, and women’s issues.

For the First Lady, I think that this is simply because people like her. It cannot hurt the president to have her speak. I do not know yet what she will speak about, but I do think that it will be similar to Mrs. Romney’s, in that it can provide personal testimony to the personal side of the president, which is something that can get lost, particularly in the context of a negative campaign for president.

2. The impact of wives is more symbolic, I think, not substantive. I cannot imagine anyone deciding to vote for president based on a candidate’s wife. I suppose it might turn people off if they despised a wife; but both of these women are well-liked. Think about Ann Romney and her attempt to appeal to women. Yes, her speech could help women relate more to Ann and Mitt Romney, and possibly more favorably; but few voters vote on personality and Ann Romney could not convince women voters who are concerned about protecting a women’s right to choose to vote for Mitt Romney because his position is not one of protecting a women’s right to choose.

Even though it might not change one’s vote choice, it could have a modest impact on turnout. That is, a wife who is an engaging speaker provides another voice to the campaign. She can speak to one group of voters, whereas her husband (and running mate) can speak to other groups. This provides more breadth to the candidate’s voice, so to speak, by giving voters more opportunity to see, in person, someone close to the president. Those rallies can be important to getting out the vote and I suspect a candidate’s wife could help, marginally, in doing this.

3. It depends. I will say that the goal of each is different. Ann Romney had a very specific charge, to reach out to women voters. Since there is no gender gap for the president, she just has to give a likable, positive speech about her experiences in the White House.

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