The Widening Gender Gap

By Emily Theroux

Dispute political polls if you like, but this one reveals a gender gap so wide that 18 women could stride through it shoulder-to-shoulder on their way to the polls that really matter: the voting booths in November.

On Monday, a Gallup/USA Today swing state poll disclosed that among women under 50 in a dozen battleground states, President Obama leads Mitt Romney by a 2-1 margin (with 60 percent favoring Obama and only 30 percent backing Romney – a  precipitous 14 percent drop in Romney’s support among younger women since a similar poll in February). Results of the new poll represent Obama’s largest lead over Romney to date: 51 to 42 percent among all registered voters in the 12 swing states, as opposed to Romney’s 48 to 46 percent lead over Obama in February. “While Romney has a slight lead among men, 48 percent to 47 percent, he lags by a whopping 18 points, 54 percent to 36 percent, in the women’s vote,” wrote Molly Ball in The Atlantic. “That means Obama’s nine-point lead over Romney in the poll can be entirely attributed to the women’s vote.”

When Romney found out how few women intend to vote for him if, as expected, he is nominated, his gut reaction was to deny the existence of a Republican war on women. I guess he figured it was worth a shot. After all, conservatives have spent several weeks auditioning a new scapegoat for the furor caused by the raft of misogynistic bills that members of the Republican majority in both Congress and numerous state legislatures have proposed since the 2010 election put them in power. After the titular head of the GOP, radio windbag Rush Limbaugh, was widely condemned for embarking on a three-day sexist rant against a law student who enraged him by testifying about contraceptives before a House subcommittee, Republican strategists struck back by pontificating about “Obama’s war on women.”

This flimsy ruse – which fell flat – was based on a premise that Rachel Maddow of MSNBC lampooned as “I Know I Am, But What Are You?” It goes like this: Because, a) HBO comic Bill Maher (who doesn’t even consider himself a “liberal”) had called Sarah Palin some very raunchy names during a comedy club performance and, b) Maher later donated $1 million to the Super PAC supporting the president’s re-election – listen carefully here and try to tease out the logic – therefore, it was, c) President Obama’s failure to return Maher’s tainted donation and not, d) the Republican Party’s relentless political agenda of relegating half the population to Dark Ages status that was the true instigator of the war on women.

After a puny punt in the direction of the ebbing tide of potential female voters, Mitt tried throwing a Hail Mary pass to his defenders in the Catholic Church hierarchy. After all, it was their “religious liberty” on the matter of choosing whether to cover female employees’ contraceptives that Republicans made such a stink about in the first place, after Obama mandated that health insurance plans provided by religious affiliated institutions would not be exempt from offering contraceptive coverage. (Later, the massive conservative outcry over denying bishops their First Amendment rights intimated Obama into changing his mind about requiring the church to provide contraceptives to female sinners free of charge. He announced that the insurance companies would leave the religious institutions entirely out of the equation and supply their employees with contraceptives directly.) “My goodness,” the Mittster later intoned, employing one of his favorite colloquial anachronisms – and totally ignoring Obama’s change of heart about the free birth control. “Under Obamacare,” Romney warned, “we’re going to tell the Catholic Church that it has to violate its religious conscience and provide insurance that gives free contraceptives, free sterilization, and free morning-after pills to their employees. … And if I am the president of the United States, I will protect our first right, the right of religious freedom.”

Mitt had to ask his wife, Ann, to elucidate an issue about which he is clearly clueless: “What Women Want,” which was the title of an asinine “chick flick” starring that inimitable champion of women’s rights, Mel Gibson. (Unlike the movie Mel, Mitt lacks the superhuman capacity to read women’s minds.) As he awkwardly replied to a question during a campaign event in Wisconsin,” Ann says that she’s going across the country and talking with women, and what they’re talking about is the debt that we’re leaving the next generation and the failure of this economy to put people back to work. … We have work to do, to make sure we take our message to the women of America, so they understand how we’re going to get good jobs and we’re going to have a bright economic future for them and for their kids,” Mitt stiffly intoned. “And make sure that these distortions that the Democrats throw in are clarified and the truth is heard.”

Too bad I wasn’t in that Wisconsin crowd. I would have “clarified” some “distortions” for him. First of all, most women aren’t any more concerned about the national debt or the deficit than anybody else is at the moment, other than right-wing ideologues. Trying to fill people’s heads with foreboding about their grandchildren’s future financial obligations has long been a false construct devised by the same folks who don’t care about the pitiful state their free-market, regulation-averse policies are going to leave the planet in by the time those same grandchildren inherit it. The swing-state poll found that the salient issue for women voters is health care. Ann Romney’s campaign talking points reflect how concerned her bewildered husband thinks women are about the deficit. “But according to this poll, that’s not really the case,” said Ball. “The deficit was fourth among women’s chief concerns. For both men and women, birth control was last among the six issues polled.”

Secondly, politicians and pundits from both political camps have blamed the GOP for the inevitable result of this poll. Liberal radio host Leslie Marshall stated in a recent column that, in her view, the Republican Party brought this on itself. “The more they spoke about contraceptives, the more it sounded like we were in the year 1712 rather than 2012,” Marshall wrote. “These poll numbers show that the GOP is alienating female voters in droves.” During an interview with USA Today, Obama campaign manager Jim Messina ventured that Romney had created “severe problems” for himself by vowing to defund Planned Parenthood and by supporting the Blunt amendment, a Senate measure that, had it not been defeated, would have enabled any employer to ban contraception coverage for reasons of conscience. “Romney’s run to the right may be winning him Tea Party votes,” Messina said. “American women can’t trust Romney to stand up for them.”

Even some Republicans blame the dramatic defection of women from Romney on the GOP’s ill-advised focus on social issues, which, ironically, originated as a Republican meme intended to distract voters from indications that the economy was actually improving on Obama’s watch. Republicans’ support by men “won’t be good enough if we’re losing women by nine points or 10 points,” said Republican strategist Sara Taylor Fagen. “The focus on contraception has not been a good one for us,” she noted, although she then added, “and Republicans have unfairly taken on water on this issue.” Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, who recently announced her retirement from the Senate, called the Republican focus on contraception “a retro-debate that (already) took place in the 1950s” and stated that Sandra Fluke – Limbaugh’s target – “should have been commended, not condemned, for her courage in expressing her own views and beliefs before members of Congress.” Romney’s denial of the fact that Republicans shot themselves in the foot while trying to storm the Democratic stronghold – coupled with his lame attempt to shift the blame to economic woes he falsely attributes to Democrats – are not going to help pull him out of the black hole of female disapprobation that his party’s policies (and his own failure to strongly condemn them) have backed him into.

With both women and, surprisingly, men under the age of 50 (who now support Obama by 53 to 41 percent) deserting Romney’s candidacy, his only consolation may be the grumpy old men who remain in his corner. “It’s older men, not younger women, who are the true outlier in the poll,” Molly Ball commented. “They’re the only group with which Romney has a lead, and it’s a big one, 56-38.”

Al Swearengen, who commented on a blog post about the Gallup/USA Today poll, said it best: “GOP: Grandpas-Only Party. The crankier, the better.”

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5 Responses to “The Widening Gender Gap”

  1. Anita Says:

    Emily, thank you for feeding my fantasy that we women will bring down Romney and the Republican party with him. On second thought, maybe it’s not a fantasy after all.

  2. Carole Howard Says:

    I once was afraid to get my hopes up that the US would elect a bi-racial, progressive, SMART president for fear of the crushing disappointment I might be letting myself in for. Now you’re getting my hopes up again, not just for an Obama re-election victory, but for a CRUSHING defeat for those cranky old men who certainly deserve it. Let’s make it happen!

  3. Michael Kaufman Says:

    Great post, Emily. I just wish the election were going to be held tomorrow. They have all that Super PAC money to spend between now and election day and who knows how many people will be fooled by the Etch-a-Sketch job by then? They are redoubling their voter suppression efforts as we speak. I think it would be a mistake if we become overconfident on the basis of these poll numbers.

  4. Fran Says:

    Thanks for the clear view through the muck the republicans generate. Reminds me of I.F.Stone’s clear views of politics. Yes , grandmas vote too. Right alongside their younger women folk.

  5. Michael Kaufman Says:

    I used to look forward to I.F. Stone’s Weekly and (later Bi-Weekly) newsletter when I was in my teens and my parents subscribed. Emily is in good company when she evokes memories of his great political insights. Not so great, however, are some of the ads that get posted at our site now: This is the second time I’ve commented on Emily’s post and each time I was greeted with an ad titled, “Hot Women For Older Men….Meet Hot Girls Online….” Talk about missing the point!

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