The real reason Romney is struggling with women voters

By Amanda Marcotte
May 9, 2012

Back in February, things started to look dire for the Romney campaign’s ability to attract female voters. Every day brought another story about Republican attacks on reproductive rights: attacks on insurance coverage for contraception, transvaginal probes, all-male panels called in Congress to discuss contraception, attacks on Planned Parenthood’s funding, and the candidate himself increasingly afraid to say a positive word about contraception when asked directly in the debates. A gender gap opened up between the candidates in the polls, with Obama outpacing Romney with women by 19 points. The Romney campaign responded by trying to change the subject, to jobs and the economy. But if Romney wants to close the gender gap, he should rethink that strategy. After all, the polling data suggests that his stance on economic issues – specifically the size of the safety net and amount of economic support the government provides to citizens – is what’s really hurting him with female voters.

The real war between the sexes may not be over feminism or sex so much as whether or not our tax dollars should go to social spending. Research conducted by Pew in October 2011 showed women support a strong, activist government in much larger numbers than men. On the question of whether the government should offer more services, women said yes by 9 more percentage points than men. The gender gap on social spending remained when pollsters asked about specific interest groups. Women wanted more spending on the elderly than did men by 11 percentage points, more spending on children by 10 percentage points and more spending on the poor by 9 percentage points.

Female voters respond much more strongly than male voters to government providing pragmatic solutions and real-world support for ordinary citizens, which helps explain why women flock to Obama and to the Democrats in general. In fact, with college-educated white voters, the gender differences are nothing short of astounding. In this group, female voters prefer Obama 60 to 40, and male voters prefer Romney 57 to 39.

As the lingering downturn puts economic issues front and center in the election, a ballooning gender gap was entirely predictable. Voters cite healthcare and economic issues as their top concerns, and with all the discussion of the student loan crisis of late, that will likely become part of the larger concerns about jobs and the economy. Knowing this, Romney wants to keep talking about these issues.

Support for healthcare reform remains low, at 43 percent, but as the public learns more about what the Affordable Health Care Act provides, the polling numbers have been creeping up a bit. With female voters, the uptick has been swift, with 47 percent of female voters supporting the new law in late March, 10 percentage points up from November. Student loan debt is another issue where women lean more to the left than men. In a recent Daily Kos/SEIU poll conducted by Public Policy Polling, more women than men – by 6 percentage points – supported legislation to keep student loan rates low, a policy that, because of congressional Republicans’ protest, voters strongly associate with Democrats, not Republicans.

Not that reproductive health issues don’t matter to female voters, but women voters have a more expansive view of what meaningful contraception policy looks like. They don’t just want the government to protect the legal right to use contraception; they also want it to enact policies that make sure birth control is affordable for all women, regardless of income. Fifty-five percent of women cite government contraception policy as an important issue for them, compared with 35 percent of men, according to Gallup. By requiring insurance companies to cover contraception and by protecting Planned Parenthood’s funding, the Obama administration appealed to female voters’ preference for a government that offers services as well as ensures reproductive rights.

Judging by Obama’s re-election website, his campaign grasps that the candidate’s popularity with women rests on this image of him as compassionate and committed to pragmatic solutions. Last week the campaign released a slideshow illustrating a generic woman named “Julia” as she lived through major life milestones. In the slideshow, we see Julia as a baby, a student, a worker, a mother and an elderly woman, with information every step of the way on how Obama’s policies help her more than Romney’s would. Student debt relief, equal pay, and healthcare reform figure prominently as government programs that simply make women’s lives better. It may not be a soaring speech or a fleet of fighter jets syncing their flight patterns to “God Bless America,” but it’s very much the getting-stuff-done approach to governance that wins over the ladies.

Conservative pundits responded to the Julia ad in a way that made one wonder if they want to dismantle all of Romney’s hard work pleading for female voters to give him a chance. As reported by Politico, right-wing pundits crawled over each other to make fun of female voters for finding this pragmatic approach to governance appealing. The phrase “nanny state” was tossed about promiscuously. To make the whole thing even more alienating for female voters, the phrase itself is loaded with poorly concealed misogyny, as it was clearly coined in the belief that there’s nothing lowlier than a woman offering care.

All of this is why it’s unlikely that Romney will close the gender gap using current tactics. Not that Romney has much of an alternative. If he softened his approach to social spending, the voters he already has – in the majority male – will probably grow disgusted with him. Unfortunately for him, being stuck on the male side of the line is bad news for any campaign. Women tend to outvote men by 4 percentage points, or roughly 8 million votes in a presidential election. Simply by being the ladies man, Obama has already secured a solid numerical advantage in 2012.

PHOTO: Republican presidential candidate and former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney shakes hands with a potential voter as he campaigns at Lawrence Technological University in Southfield, Michigan, January 13, 2008. REUTERS/John Gress


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( – 324,000 women dropped out of the nation’s civilian labor force in March and April as the number of women not in the labor force hit an all-time historical high of 53,321,000, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

This is the real reason why Obama should start packing.

And this is the reality Ms. Amanda should write about.

Nobody is against contraceptives. Just against another new free program on top of endless other free programs that make this country less and less competitive.

Posted by proptr | Report as abusive

Here’s an idea: If a certain group of women don’t want men to have a say in reproductive issues then let’s abolish child support enforcement laws since that is directly related to the reproductive decision.

And yes my dears, there ARE people who want a Daddy state to pay the bills. Unfortunately, I am related to a few. The “not my problem” attitude towards their own foolish decisions annoys me to no end. One has a child who now represents the 5th generation of welfare dependents in that same branch of the family. A parent cannot teach what she or he does not know and cannot demonstrate what she or he will not do. The cycle ends when someone is encouraged to get off their ever fattening backside and be of service to the society that they think should serve them instead.

Remember, it was a famous Democrat who said “Ask not what your country can do for you….” Hmm…too bad his predecessors don’t care to follow orders.

Posted by JCnTN | Report as abusive

oops “successors”

Posted by JCnTN | Report as abusive

Fascinating. Article after article of leftist pap on Reuters. Their avowed task is to push the right leaning electorate left (and occassionallky Photoshopping images to bias war reporting).

The author, however, only mixes with like minded individuals who inhabit states that will be Democrat regardless.

But go out to the swing states and the story is different. Employment – or lack of it – is the main issues. Not gays, not feminism, not big government vs. small government, but jobs and standard of living.

And there Obama is failing.

Posted by eleno | Report as abusive

I disagree strongly with the portrayal of women as some monolithic block who have one or two overriding concerns. They are fascinating beings that God put here on earth to balance out the other half of us. I really fail to see how anyone has a “right” to take someone elses money to pay for (non)reproductive services. Women have a right to “control their bodies” but they should pay for it themselves.

Posted by zotdoc | Report as abusive

Perhaps what we need to do is make men responsible for contraception. Put the burden of paying for what the men seem to want, control, squarely on them. Then birth control pills can be used for their other purposes, such as treating ovarian cysts and hormone imbalances, and paid for like any other medication covered by insurance.

By way, a look at the numbers might be instructive. There are millions more women than men in the U.S. There are more women voters and a higher percentage of them vote. If they put their minds to it, they are going to get who they want elected and what they want done. This is something Mr. Romney might want to consider.

Posted by TexasBill | Report as abusive

I’ve never seen such an angry, dismissive and insulting set of posts as those here. What’s up with this? The article is just a straightforward description of gender preferences and yet it draws a furious assault of misogynous comment. Whether you believe in conservative, moderate, or liberal social policy (or pragmatic which can be either) you can’t help but be taken aback by the overt hostility towards women expressed in some of these posts.

Posted by sandblast | Report as abusive

This matters. It tells us about Romney’s character.

Romney claims he has changed; yet he still calls a mean, cowardly and vicious assault by five against one as a “prank”. So I don’t buy Romney’s story. Where is the real regret or remorse ?? Once a mean, cowardly and callous bully, always a mean, cowardly and callous bully.

The slick, older Romney may be more sophisticated about concealing the bullying side of his character; but somehow I think we are now going to learn a lot more about it, despite his best efforts to conceal it or laugh it off.

About Romney and cowardice: during the Viet Nam war, Romney did everything he could to avoid military service … even though he went on demonstrations in favor of the Viet Nam war. He didn’t want to be one of the 50,000 young Americans who lost their lives in that war — or the thousands more who lost their limbs. He wanted the war he clamored for, to be fought by the “little people” like you and me. Like Dick Cheney, Romney had “other priorities” for his life.

Posted by Mike113 | Report as abusive

There are two types of Republicans:

1) The rich

2) The gullible

Posted by LoveJoyOne | Report as abusive

OK… One thing I fail to understand is why folks tend to believe that the government is there to give them ‘stuff’. It’s not. The politicians are there to ‘take’, not ‘give’. But it’s not their money to give. Does anyone believe that giving the Government $1 will get you $2 back in ‘stuff’? Foolish as I am, I see the opposite happening as our hard earned tax dollars pass through several layers of sticky fingered beaurocrats before the ‘free stuff’ is distributed. The next time you pay for gas or groceries at ever rising prices, cheer up and consider that it’s just the rich folk’s cost of doing business and supporting the ‘free stuff’. (PS: I’m not rich, and Bertrand Russell was gullible to suggest the disarmament of GB in the 1930′s).

Posted by TomatoCain | Report as abusive