Gender chasm

    With respect to the gender chasm that currently afflicts the GOP – in a new Pew poll, Mitt Romney trails Barack Obama among women voters by a whopping 20 points; in a new Gallup poll, Romney trails by 18 – it’s worth noting that some Republicans recognize the serious risks of alienating the gender that dominates presidential elections. Just check out the quotes.Linda DiVall, a Republican pollster: “There is…clearly a recognition that the party needs to do a better job.”Ann Wagner, a top Republican National Committee official: “We’ve got work to do…We need to sound the horn out there, and talk in ways that are relevant to women’s lives.”David Winston, another Republican pollster: “If you don’t talk about the top issues that matter to women, you’ll see support drop off.”But here’s the twist: DiVall, Wagner, and Winston voiced those concerns to me…11 years ago.In other words, the GOP’s problems with women voters have persisted for a long time, party leaders have tried all kinds of strategies for closing the gender gap – hiring corporate marketers and communication specialists to craft “female-friendly language,” creating projects with names like WomenCare – and none of them have worked. The only recent presidential election when Republicans weren’t waxed by women voters was 2004, and that was a unique circumstance; in the wake of 9/11, “security moms” tilted toward George W. Bush, who lost women to John Kerry by only three points.That election aside, the gender gap has been a regular feature since 1992. Bill Clinton won women by eight points in the 1992 three-way race with the elder George Bush and Ross Perot. Clinton won women by 16 points in 1996. Al Gore won women by 11 points in 2000. Barack Obama won women by 13 points in 2008. These stats are critically important, because, in presidential years, women typically vote in far greater numbers than men.And now we have Romney, surfacing in two polls with a gender chasm worse than any of his recent Republican predecessors. Granted, the election is still seven months away, and it’s hard to foresee him actually losing women to Obama by 20 points. But unless Romney can somehow slash that deficit in half, it’s probably game over. As Republican strategist Sara Taylor Fagen reportedly acknowledged the other day, the GOP’s traditional edge among men “probably won’t be good enough if we’re losing women by nine or 10 points.”So why are women so hostile to Romney? More specifically, why (according to Gallup) has Romney hemorrhaged support among women since mid-February?Because he and his party can’t help being who they are.Romney has hurt himself by promising to “get rid of” Planned Parenthood, which screens the health of millions of women (specifically, he vows to cut off the group’s federal money); by declaring that employers as a matter of conscience should be free to expunge contraception from their worker health plans (Senate Republicans tried and failed to target women with that one); and by refusing to condemn Rush Limbaugh when the right-wing shock jock yelled “slut” and “prostitute” at the Georgetown student who spoke up for contraception.But the problem goes far beyond Romney. He’s likely taking a big hit in the gender polls for the party’s female-unfriendly efforts across the map. Red-state legislatures have been pushing for measures that would curb women’s power over their own bodies. Republican spinners insist these days that the Democrats have “manufactured” the notion of a GOP war on women, but that’s an odd assertion in light of the fact that Republican lawmakers have been targeting abortion and contraception in (among other states) Virginia, Texas, Florida, Arizona, Wyoming, South Dakota, Kentucky, Georgia, Oklahoma, Ohio, Missouri, and Pennsylvania.As former Republican congressman Joe Scarborough remarked on his cable show yesterday, “The party has been obsessing on issues that offend women…I would suggest that the GOP try and win elections instead of shooting themselves in the foot.”It would be wrong to suggest, however, that women are only interested in women-centric issues. The GOP actually has a broader philosophical problem. More than ever, the party is fixated on shredding the government safety net – whereas women, far more than men, endorse the government safety net. And that’s another dilemma for Romney, who has endorsed the Paul Ryan budget plan that targets the safety net and tilts heavily toward more tax breaks for the top brackets. Obama, in a speech today, assails the Ryan plan as “thinly-veiled Social Darwinism,” a line that will resonate with most women.All told, if Romney wants to narrow the gender chasm, he’ll need to do a lot more than trot out his charming wife on the campaign trail. (Ann probably didn’t help the cause yesterday, when she insisted that her man isn’t “stiff” and that, as proof, “we better unzip him and let the real Mitt Romney out.”) But he is seriously constrained by his party’s philosophy, and his own need to kowtow accordingly.As former national Republican delegate Tanya Melich remarked, “They always promise to change, but they keep doing the same thing over and over again.”So she told me…11 years ago.


    Follow me on Twitter, @dickpolman1

    • WHYY thanks our sponsors — become a WHYY sponsor

    WHYY is your source for fact-based, in-depth journalism and information. As a nonprofit organization, we rely on financial support from readers like you. Please give today.

    Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

    Together we can reach 100% of WHYY’s fiscal year goal