For the past year or so, we’ve seen television ads for a prescription drug designed to help men with something called “Low T,” which turns out to mean low testosterone levels (who knew?). As I waded through tons of polling data and focus-group findings this week, it hit me. For the past couple of years, and especially during the presidential debates over recent months, Republicans have shown signs of the opposite problem: “High T.” The GOP has an excess of testosterone that may be hurting the party with some segments of women voters, specifically with those under 50, single women, and independent women.
The messaging and signals emanating from Republican presidential candidates, as well as from elected officials in Washington and in state capitals, seem to be aimed at only conservative, white men. This is a group that once dominated the electorate but is now considerably smaller than a majority.
The Pew Research Center for the People and the Press released a poll of 2,373 registered voters, culled from a larger group of 3,008 adults, interviewed April 4-15. Among all registered voters, President Obama led presumptive Republican nominee Mitt Romney by just 4 percentage points, 49 percent to 45 percent, down from a 12-point lead, 54 percent to 42 percent, a month ago.
In the survey, respondents rated the importance of 18 issues and then indicated their preference between Obama and Romney. Not too surprisingly, Obama did best with those who rated the environment as very important; he led that group by 39 percentage points. He also won the folks who picked education as very important by 22 points, birth control by 19 points, and health care by 15 points. See a pattern here? Romney prevailed among those who picked the budget deficit as very important, winning them by 19 points, and among those who named Iran, by 14 points. Those kinds of issues are very different from birth control and health care.
The relevance of all of this comes through when you look at key demographic breakouts from the trial heat between Obama and Romney. Overall, Obama led among women by 13 points: 53 percent to 40 percent. Romney was ahead among men by 6 points: 50 percent to 44 percent. Given that women generally make up 51 to 52 percent of the electorate, whenever Republican candidates lose women by more than they win among men, they can skip ordering the champagne for election night. In all but the most unusual cases, a Republican needs to win among men by a wider margin than a Democrat does among women.
But it gets really interesting when you break the genders down by age: under 50 versus over 50. Among all women 50 and older, Obama beat Romney by 7 points, 50 percent to 43 percent. Among all women under 50, though, Obama prevailed by 18 points, 56 percent to 38 percent. That’s an 11-point difference in the president’s lead between the younger and older groups of women.
Among men, Obama actually led among those under 50 by 1 percentage point: 47 percent to 46 percent. But Romney prevailed among men 50 and older by 11 percentage points, 53 percent to 42 percent. So, a 12-point difference in Obama’s standing between the younger and older men.
When you make the same comparisons among just white voters, the contrast is even starker. Romney’s support came overwhelmingly from white men, a group he carried by 26 points, 60 percent to 34 percent. In comparison, the Republican had an advantage of just 5 points among white women, 49 percent to 44 percent. The age difference among white women was considerably less important than that among all women. Among white women 50 and older, Romney defeated Obama by 7 points, 50 percent to 43 percent. Among white women under 50, he won by 3 points, 48 percent to 45 percent, for only a 4-point difference between younger and older groups of women.
Among white men, Romney won the under-50 cohort by 13 percentage points, 53 percent to 40 percent. Among white men 50 and older, he prevailed by 27 percentage points, 61 percent to 34 percent. That’s a 14-point difference.
Taking all of this into consideration and then adding that Obama led by 40 points among Hispanic voters, 67 percent to 27 percent, and by 93 points among African-Americans, 95 percent to 2 percent, it’s clear that, assuming these groups turn out in numbers approaching 2008, it’s women under 50 who are the demographic that either will or won’t put Obama over the top in the general election.
Democrats hope to make the case that Republicans have tailored their priorities for white men, particularly white men over 50, to such a degree that they seem to deliberately exclude women voters, especially younger women. Other polling shows real deterioration for Romney among independent women—most specifically, those under 50.
It is very clear that this presidential race is closing up. Closing and winning, though, are two different things. You can bet that Romney’s strategists are eyeing this same data and probably drawing the same conclusions.
This article appears in the April 21, 2012 edition of National Journal Magazine.