Romney Candidacy Turns the Gender Gap into the Grand Canyon

A just-released poll by Quinnipiac reveals that President Obama now holds a not insurmountable 4-point lead over Romney overall—but he has an eye-popping 18-point lead among women voters. 

It’s hard to win an election, says Quinnipiac’s Peter Brown, when you’re getting “shellacked” by women, who comprise half of the electorate.

Ann Romney can shout from the mountaintops, “I LOVE you, women!,” in one of the most riotous acts of pander in recent memory, but it appears that women don’t love her (husband) back.

Maybe women are, as actor Samuel Johnson exhorted in a feisty political ad, “waking the f. up.” Maybe the GOP has had a jumping the shark moment.

The social radicalism and neo-patriarchal views of the GOP base has become something that people (women, but men who enjoy modern, feminist-transformed life as well) must take seriously. There’s a sense that those extreme views can’t be quarantined in some “other” America that the rest of us don’t need to worry about. They keep creeping into the mainstream, through revealingly callous comments, anecdotes, or explicit policy and legislative positions.

In a social media-driven election, these more extreme, non-mainstream views can’t be controlled. They can’t be locked away or muffled by more fiscally-inspired Republicans, who might hope that the socially radical base would just quietly churn out votes for them, hide their love away, and then disappear into the attic again.

If you support abortion and other rights for women, it’s harder to overlook the hostility.

Conversely, if you’re pro-life and self-identify as socially conservative, then you can’t seriously believe that Romney cares about fetuses and blastulas the way that you do. He’s no Rick Santorum. Romney’s not a cultural warrior, or a locked-in fighter for your values regardless of political cost, any more than he’s a fighter for any other value.

As the joke goes, at one time or another, Romney’s been on your side.

The gender gap is an artifact of post-Roe politics. In the early 1900s suffragettes predicted that granting women the vote would transform American electoral politics, but voting patterns before the 1970s didn’t actually reveal women’s footprint as a distinct voting bloc. Men and women had fairly similar voting patterns. The gender gap didn’t register in the Carter-Ford contest of 1976, either, in which Carter got 50 percent of the votes of both men and women.

But in 1980, a relatively modest “gender gap” emerged (the Rutgers Center for American Women and Politics has a useful summary of the historical trends). A victorious Ronald Reagan got 46% of the women’s vote, but 54% of the men’s vote, for an 8-point gender gap in his support. He had a slightly smaller, 6-point gap in his 1984 re-election.

Since 1980, a gender gap of varying degrees has existed. It dipped as low as a 4-point advantage in the 1992 election, when President Clinton got 45% of the women’s vote to 41% of the men’s vote, and reached its heretofore widest point in Clinton’s 1996 re-election, where he won 54% of women compared to 43% of men, for an 11-point difference.

From 1996 on, however, the gender gap had actually been closing somewhat. It was smaller in the Bush-Gore contest (10 points), smaller still with Bush-Kerry (7 points), and remained at 7 points in the 2008 Obama-McCain campaign.

That context makes Romney’s stunning deficit among women in this campaign all the more notable.

True, the “gender gap” is deceptive, because it’s a blunt term that doesn’t capture activity and affiliations among many sub-groups and cohorts of women that must be parsed to better understand voting complexities (for example, Kerry did very poorly with non-college educated women in 2004, and Romney is tanking with college-educated and post-graduate women, specifically).

Whatever the case, in the last few elections, the gender gap overall was moving toward becoming less dramatic, not more so.

If Obama still commands anything like this historically unprecedented 18-point lead among women on election day, it will bulldoze what had been a slightly diminishing gender gap into a canyon.

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