Originally published by The 19th. Written by Grace Panetta
How many genders are there, according to one GOP Super PAC? Three: “Male,” “working woman” and “homemaker.”
Those are the categories given in a survey sent out to Montanans on behalf of the super PAC More Jobs, Less Government, which is supporting Montana GOP Senate candidate Tim Sheehy. The full online survey, obtained by The 19th, tested various messages and a yet-to-be-aired TV ad attacking Rep. Matt Rosendale, Sheehy’s potential opponent in the Republican primary.
Much about the survey remains unknown: The 19th was unable to confirm who conducted it on the PAC’s behalf or how many people viewed it. But experts who spoke to The 19th said the highly unusual framing of the question could be intended to subtly push a message out about Sheehy’s candidacy — and that it could more broadly speak to how antiquated views of women’s roles persist in parts of the Republican electorate.
Sheehy, a former Navy SEAL and Purple Heart recipient, owns an aerial firefighting and rescue company and sold a sister company focused on drone and aerial surveillance technology for $350 million in 2020. A top recruit for Senate Republicans, Sheehy jumped in the race last year to challenge Democratic Sen. Jon Tester in one of 2024’s most competitive Senate races. He also recently appeared in Iowa as a surrogate for former President Donald Trump.
The survey tested a TV ad attacking Rosendale as “wrong for Montana.” It dinged his multiple runs for office in the state and hit him for voting against a GOP education messaging bill — which would, the ad proclaimed, mean that, “Children can change their pronouns or get vaccinated without your consent.” Rosendale argued the bill represented federal government overreach. A disclosure at the end of the video said it was paid for by More Jobs, Less Government.
After placing an initial $250,000 radio ad buy supporting Sheehy in 2023, More Jobs, Less Government has spent an additional $400,000 in January on text messages, radio ads and digital ads, campaign finance filings show. The survey was received by at least one person in January and seemed to test messaging and a specific ad.
The ad tested in the survey would be the PAC’s first television ad of the cycle and its first media expenditure attacking Rosendale, who has not formally entered the race. The survey asked respondents to rate how believable they found the ad and whether they thought it was too low key, too sensational or struck the right tone.
More Jobs, Less Government did not respond to requests for comment at emails associated with it in FEC filings. Under federal campaign finance laws, super PACs cannot directly contribute to or coordinate with candidates they support on the content of ads and other messaging.
But one expert said the survey may have been designed to be a “push poll,” intended to push out messages that communicate messages about a given candidate, as opposed to a survey seeking information to better understand the electorate. In this case, the message could be a signal that Sheehy would back traditional values.
“I couldn’t imagine a reputable polling agency doing it that way,” said Kelly Dittmar, director of research at the Center for American Women and Politics (CAWP) at Rutgers University.
The survey research firm co/efficient, which recently conducted a survey of the Montana Senate primary and did polling for More Jobs, Less Government in the 2022 election cycle, told The 19th it “most certainly” did not field the poll.
“I assume they are attempting to measure the differences in the impact of certain messages or unique policy preferences between those two groups of women,” Ryan Munce, co/efficient’s president, said in an email. “However, that is not how we would design a study seeking to accomplish that objective.”
The word “homemaker” was first used starting in the 1860s. But in recent decades, terms like “homemaker” and “housewife” have been viewed as increasingly outdated and been replaced by “stay-at-home mother,” or in its gender-neutral form, “stay-at-home parent.”
And most, but not all, “homemakers” are women: a recent Pew Research Center analysis found that fathers now make up 18 percent of stay-at-home parents who are not employed for pay, up from 11 percent in 1989. A vague label like “working woman” on its own doesn’t provide any potentially valuable information to a pollster about a respondent’s occupation or economic status.
“It doesn’t mean anything to the campaign,” Dittmar added. “A different take is that they’re not actually trying to get information, they’re trying to push information.”
“It’s a way to communicate something — and it’s pretty overt. But it’s also not saying, ‘Agree or disagree, women belong in the home,’” Dittmar said, summing up the potential message of the question as: “This candidate we’re supporting is a remnant of this traditionalism that has been attacked.”
That messaging would be incongruous with Sheehy’s own biography. According to his campaign website, he met his wife, Carmen, a former Marine, at the U.S. Naval Academy. After their military service, the two settled in Montana and launched Bridger Aerospace. They raise their four children on a 20,000-acre ranch where they “raise, feed, and process cattle to help develop America’s food supply chain,” his bio says.
Rebecca Jo Plant, a historian and professor at University of California–San Diego who specializes in the history of gender and the family, said another purpose for the question wording could be “trying to figure out how far to push on issues that appeal to hardcore Christian traditionalists” on issues like support for school vouchers, homeschooling and abortion restrictions and opposing transgender rights.
An Emerson College poll of the Montana Senate race released in October 2023 found Tester leading Sheehy among women by 16 points, 46 to 30 percent, while Sheehy led among men by eight points, 40 to 32 points.
The 2024 election also comes amid a persistent divide between married and unmarried women that now accounts for nearly the entire gender gap in voting, Plant noted. Married women narrowly favored Trump in the 2020 election, while unmarried women overwhelmingly backed President Joe Biden.
“Republicans have increasingly come to view unmarried women as a problematic demographic group for them,” she said.
That trend continued in the 2022 midterms after the Supreme Court’s decision overturning Roe v. Wade, leading the Fox News personality Jesse Watters to lament that single women had been “captured” by the Democratic Party.
“We need these ladies to get married,” he declared. “It’s time to fall in love and just settle down. Guys, go out and put a ring on it.”
Video Source: Advocate Channel