Romney's Campaign

The Women's Vote and 2012

04.02.12 4:50 PM ET

Chris Cillizza and Aaron Blake write in the Washington Post today about Mitt Romney's intensifying problems with women voters:

In mid-February, Obama took less than half of the vote from women under 50 years old. Now he wins more than 60 percent of them. (Obama is ahead of Romney among all women by 18 points.)

Cillizza and Blake point to the contraception debacle of recent weeks as the primary cause of the shift:

That rapid consolidation of women behind Obama seems directly attributable to the focus in the Republican presidential primary on contraception and other reproductive rights issues during the past six weeks or so.

Well, maybe. Up to a point.

But Republicans will make a grave mistake if they persuade themselves that it's social issues that most strongly motivate women voters.

There is no significant gender gap at all on abortion, for example, according to Pew Research.

No, men and women are divided on economic issues. (Also on issues of war and peace, but that is less pertinent today.) To simplify: American men (and especially white men) respond positively to the language of economic individualism. American women–not so much.

Take a look at this highly detailed study of policy attitudes from Rutgers’ Center for American Women and Politics. The data are based on polls from the mid-1990s, but the realities haven’t changed much in the intervening years:

Q:  “Which of these statements comes closer to your own views – even if neither is exactly right? ‘The government should do more to help needy Americans – even if it means going deeper into debt.’ Or ‘The government today can’t afford to do much more to help the needy.’”

Among women, 53% answered “do more.” Among men, 43%.

Under today’s different circumstances, you’d get different digits–but you’d see the same disparity.

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Back in the 1990s, 70% of American women wanted to see a universal healthcare guarantee. 70% thought the federal government should guarantee that everybody had a job. 80% wanted a higher minimum wage.

Men in the 1990s were typically 10-15 points more individualistic. Pew confirms that this 10-15 point individualism gap still obtains today.

Rush Limbaugh’s slut-rampage was obviously unhelpful to the GOP side. But if Mitt Romney is to improve his standing among women, he’s going to have to do more than repudiate Limbaugh-style insults. He’s going to have to prove to women voters that he is a compassionate conservative, not a Tea Party radical. And to do that, he will have to overcome the entrenched resistance of GOP factions that seem determined to hurl their party over an electoral cliff.