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Politics / Campaign 2012

Has Romney Erased the Gender Gap?

Obama pounces on the Mourdock flap as a new poll, contradicting others, shows he's lost his advantage with women.

Mitt Romney speaks to a group of women voters at Van Dyck Park in Fairfax, Virginia.(Chet Susslin)

photo of Naureen Khan
October 25, 2012

Either women will boost President Obama to victory in November or they’re turning away from him in droves.

Both conclusions are plausible if you’re looking at the most recent spate of presidential polls in the final two weeks of the campaign with an eye toward the much-dissected “gender gap.”

A new Associated Press-Gfk poll survey, conducted Oct. 19-23, shows Obama tied with rival Mitt Romney among female voters at 47 percent, his previous 16-point lead among women in the same survey completely gone.


(RELATED: Why a Pay Equity Study Irked a Conservative Women's Group)

Yet the latest Washington Post/ABC News Poll, conducted Oct. 21-24 and reported as a multi-night rolling average, shows Obama with a formidable 15-point advantage, leading Romney among women 56 percent to 41 percent. Gallup, based on an average of daily polls Oct. 1-21, has Obama garnering 54 percent of the support among likely women voters to Romney’s 46 percent. The latest NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll, conducted Oct. 17-20, also shows the president up 8 points, 51 percent to 43 percent, among likely female voters. 

Public Policy Polling, a Democratic firm that does automated polling, has Obama up by 12 points among women, as does a daily tracking poll done for Investors Business Daily.

The trend in the data led New York Times polling guru Nate Silver to ruminate that this year’s gender gap may be one for the history books, with Obama leading among women on average by about 9 points and Romney leading among men by 9 points. Notably, even in these estimates, Romney is not doing much worse with women voters than any other Republican presidential candidate in recent history.

But if the Obama campaign is confident that it has locked down the women's vote, it’s certainly not acting like it—perhaps a reaction to the knowledge that winning tight states like Virginia and Colorado depends on maximizing its appeal to women.

Aboard a flight from Tampa, Fla. to Richmond, Va. on Thursday, the Obama campaign and the White House pushed back against the findings of the AP/Gfk poll. “If you look at the aggregate of all the polls, what you see is that the president has a very strong advantage among women,” White House Communications Director Dan Pfeiffer told reporters, according to CBS News. “In all battleground states, (President Obama) continues to have advantage everywhere and his support among women is a key part of that.”

Pfeiffer was also dubious that Obama had cut Romney’s lead among men to just 5 points, another finding of the AP/Gfk survey, a phenomenon he attributed to fewer voters being willing to participate in polls as the campaign season grinds on. “It’s traditional that more men have been Republican,” Pfeiffer said. “When you see polls that completely run counter to that historical fact, they’re probably worth putting in the waste bin.”

Obama’s push for women has largely centered on highlighting hot-button reproductive issues in TV ads, web videos and campaign events. Cecile Richards, the President of Planned Parenthood, has taken a leave of absence in order to campaign for Obama.

This week, the Obama campaign seized the opportunity provided by Indiana Senate candidate Richard Mourdock, who said in a debate with his opponent that he opposes abortion in the case of rape because the pregnancy “is something that God intended to happen."

The Obama campaign hit the issue hard on social media and asked Romney to disavow Mourdock. The statement put Romney, who made a TV ad endorsing Mourdock, in an awkward position. He said he disagreed with Mourdock – he supports legal abortion in cases of rape -- but did not withdraw his backing.

Obama himself has been talking up the flap since it happened. "I don't know how these guys come up with these ideas," Obama told Jay Leno on Wednesday night’s show. "Let me make a very simple proposition: Rape is rape. It is a crime. And so these various distinctions about rape don't make too much sense to me -- don't make any sense to me."

On Thursday, at a rally in Richmond, Obama put it this way: “And you know what—I think we’ve seen again this week -- I don’t think any male politician should be making health care decisions for women. I don’t think your boss or your insurance company should be making those decisions for you either.  I believe women are capable and should make their own health care decisions for themselves.”


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