The gender gap in support between President Barack Obama and his now-certain Republican rival Mitt Romney has been a topic with no small amount of national attention.
This was even more the case after a USA Today/Gallup poll of battleground states showed Obama gaining 11 percentage points on Romney in the space of a month, a change based in large part on what the pollsters dubbed a “yawning gender gap” and an “overwhelming lead among women” in favor of the president.
That poll, which surveyed 933 registered voters in late March, found Obama to have an 18-point margin among women and an even greater advantage among women under 50. Among men, on the other hand, Obama and Romney were statistically tied. That margin of support is up sharply from their poll just a month ago and is larger than even Obama’s 12-point margin among women nationwide in the 2008 election.
The same dynamic is occurring in Maine as well. A recent poll released by the Maine People’s Resource Center (for which I work) with a sample size of 993 likely voters found that Obama had a 5 percent lead among men surveyed, but was preferred by a whopping 29 percent margin by women. In the all-important 2nd District, Obama actually would be losing by about 7 percentage points if his 20-point preference among women didn’t give him a solid lead.
Similar results were seen in other races measured in the poll. Democratic 1st District Congresswoman Chellie Pingree currently has twice the margin of support among women as she does among men, and Democratic 2nd District Congressman Mike Michaud would be in a dead heat with Republican rival Kevin Raye if only men were allowed to vote. Thanks to a big advantage among women, Michaud leads Raye overall by more than 16 percentage points.
In the U.S. Senate Democratic primary, the poll shows candidates Cynthia Dill and Matt Dunlap in a statistical tie (with a majority of voters still undecided). Without women voters, the results indicate that Dunlap would likely have a strong advantage in the race.
In the U.S. Senate general election, independent candidate Angus King seems to have a big lead however you look at the three-way race, but he still manages to garner 10 points more support from women voters than men.
It’s normal for women to support Democratic and left-leaning candidates at a greater rate, but these margins are far larger than what we’ve seen in recent elections.
It’s still very early, but if this division of opinion continues, things will look very bad for Republican candidates up and down the ballot. You just can’t lose women by more than 10 percentage points and expect to compete in modern elections.
Republicans have come up with some interesting excuses for these results. Perhaps the most offensive came from former presidential candidate Herman Cain, who declared on Fox News that men were evaluating Obama’s policies while “other people” (by which he meant women) “just look at him and his family.”
Contrary to Cain’s theory, the change in opinion among women likely is based in large part on the recent national focus on issues that single them out and affect them directly, including GOP-led efforts to restrict access to birth control medication in insurance plans, promises by Republican candidates to repeal popular provisions of the Affordable Care Act and renewed attacks on funding for Planned Parenthood.
For many women, the focus on these issues and the offensive rhetoric coming from Republican candidates and pundits alike has made them feel like they’re under attack.
One respondent to the USA Today/Gallup poll, a 62-year old schoolteacher who later was interviewed by the newspaper, said she felt Republicans were trying to “turn the clock back on women’s issues and the gains we made.” Another respondent, a 29-year old mother of three, said she wasn’t very impressed with Democrats but was now leaning toward supporting Obama, saying of the GOP, “They’re trying to make decisions for everybody when they don’t agree, kind of forcing their rules and regulations on everybody.”
As Romney shifts into general election mode, he’ll be working to shift focus back to the economy, where he has some hard work to do convincing voters that his policies won’t benefit the wealthy at the expense of the rest of us.
Before he can do that, however, these recent polling numbers show that he and other Republicans will have to shake the Etch-a-Sketch pretty hard to erase the lines they’ve drawn separating themselves from women.
Mike Tipping is a political junkie. He writes the Tipping Point blog on Maine politics at DownEast.com, his own blog at MainePolitics.net and works for the Maine People’s Alliance and the Maine People’s Resource Center. He’s @miketipping on Twitter. Email to [email protected]