GOP: Respect Women or Keep Losing

It’s not rocket science: the gender gap was as key to Obama’s reelection as the Latino vote, and the GOP won’t make up the difference until it learns to treat women as equals, writes Kirsten Powers.

The verdict is in: the Democrats’ "War on Women" drumbeat, with a healthy assist from a few knuckle-dragger GOP Senate candidates, helped win the election for Barack Obama.

On Tuesday, the electorate turned out once again to be more female than male, by the same 6-point margin as in 2008. Nationally, the ladies overwhelmingly preferred President Obama, 55 to 44 percent. But when the presidential season kicked off, it was far from a foregone conclusion that women would turn out to vote by the same margins as in 2008. Weary and concerned about the economy, the women’s vote—especially unmarried women—was depressed, and Democrats were deeply concerned that these core voters might stay home on Election Day.

Fast forward to Nov. 6, 2012: unmarried women showed up, and they went for Obama 67 to 31 percent; women with children preferred the president by 56 to 43 percent. For those who claim women are a lost cause to the Republican Party, consider that in 2004 George W. Bush lost them by a mere 3 points to John Kerry.

But if you want real evidence that the “War on Women” meme paid off, take a look at the swing in the gender gap in states that were bombarded with Democratic advertising. In Iowa, the 2008 gender gap was 5 points. This year it was 15. Ohio swung from a 2-point gender gap in 2008 to 10 points in 2012. Virginia saw a 5-point swing, from 2 points in ’08 to 7 this year. Florida went from a 1-point gender gap to a 7-point gap in 2012. The only swing state that didn't see a significant gender gap this time around was Colorado.

GOP, you have a problem.

The media treated the “War on Women” as being primarily about reproductive issues, but not so the Obama campaign. Team Obama knew that the issue that women cared about the most was the economy, and reminded women constantly that the hostility the GOP shows toward the government could leave single women in a perilous situation. Republicans ridiculed “The Life of Julia,” but it was a brilliant campaign outreach tactic that showed how a Romney administration would affect women in a way that left nothing to the imagination.

Adding to the alienation of women voters this year were deeply troubling comments from GOP Senate candidates about rape, a tirade by Rush Limbaugh calling a woman a slut for testifying about the availability of birth control, and so on. Yes, Bill Maher is a pig and says terrible things about women too, but voters don’t view him as a leader in the Democratic Party in the same way Limbaugh is viewed in the GOP. Also unhelpful to the GOP cause is the constant insistence that there is no wage discrimination against women—a stance that led to the mocking of the Lily Ledbetter Act, a milquetoast measure protecting women from salary discrimination that any decent person should support.

A constant cry from the right is that Democrats “talk down” to women and appeal to their emotions, especially with unmarried women. Ironically, their claims of condescension are condescending themselves. The real reason that unmarried women prefer the Democratic Party over the Republican Party is because they don’t have a spouse to help carry the load, so the government becomes the only safety net they have, and they view it as a good in the world. They live with an economic vulnerability that most men and even many married women will never experience. If they lose their job, their children don’t eat—unless, of course, the government provides them with some help. They aren’t “moochers,” they aren’t “sluts” for having out-of-wedlock sex, and they aren’t dummies driven by emotion.

If the GOP ever wants the keys to the White House again they’d be wise to learn how to show a little respect to these women.