Women and people of color have been hit hardest by the novel coronavirus, but during Thursday night’s final presidential debate, President Trump and former vice president Joe Biden didn’t have much of an answer for how to help them.
NBC journalist and moderator, Kristen Welker, asked both presidential candidates why they have not provided or assisted in distributing help to those ailing the most from the economic fallout with a relief bill. The answers she received bounced from blaming House Speaker Nancy Pelosi by Trump to pointing a finger at the Republican Party by Biden.
Experts say it was a missed opportunity to reach a critical voting bloc.
Women are largely absent from the discussions that most impact them on presidential debate stages despite that fact that they cast their ballots at rates higher than men since the 1980s, said Nichole Bauer, an assistant professor in the political science department and the Manship School of Mass Communication at Louisiana State University.
U.S. society has often treated women as 10 percent of the population instead of more than half the population and the majority of the electorate because women started out in the foundation of the country as not being full citizens, she said.
The lack of discussion about issues that seriously affect women — like the staggering number of women being driven out of the paid workforce during the pandemic — is not surprising, she said.
This was a lost opportunity for candidates, according to Bauer.
For example, Biden said he supports increasing the federal minimum wage in addition to bailing out small businesses, which could be required to pay employees an increased wage. Trump said he would consider an increase “to an extent.”
The discussion was full of chances to speak directly to women and people of color, Bauer said.
“A lot of the workers earning minimum wage are disproportionately women and women of color,” she said. “We talk about these issues in gender and race neutral ways but there are gendered and racialized issues. The candidates often escape that and lose n opportunity to really speak to those voters.”
Aparna Thomas, a professor of politics and women’s studies at Cornell College in Iowa, had low expectations for the candidates going into the debate.
While she didn’t anticipate any revelatory statements from either candidate, she said she was surprised that there wasn’t more discussion about the disproportionate impact the pandemic has had on women or the pending confirmation of Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court. The addition of Barrett to the country’s highest court could put Roe v. Wade, LGBTQ rights and the Affordable Care Act at risk.
Concerns like this tend to get sidetracked unless there are female candidates onstage, but even when they are present, the focus is often more on her gender than her policies, Thomas said, pointing to 2016.
The debate, like most presidential debates, was missing substantive discussion about race, class and gender even when the candidates were pointedly asked about these issues, she said.
“It’s a bunch of men who are thinking about things that are affecting men,” Bauer said.