Why Women Are Democrats’ Last Best Hope to Salvage the Senate

Republicans are nervously watching the gender gap widen as Democrats press their advantage with female voters.

Scott Bland
Oct. 1, 2014, 4:20 p.m.

In North Car­o­lina, GOP Sen­ate nom­in­ee Thom Tillis had built leads of up to 14 per­cent­age points among men in re­cent polls. Re­pub­lic­ans who have won male voters by that mar­gin have only lost two Sen­ate races in the past 10 years, ac­cord­ing to exit polls. It’s equal to the mar­gin Re­pub­lic­ans pos­ted na­tion­wide dur­ing their elect­or­al sweep in 2010.

But Tillis has con­sist­ently trailed in re­cent sur­veys, be­cause Demo­crat­ic Sen. Kay Hagan—whose cam­paign, like her party’s ef­forts in Col­or­ado and else­where across the coun­try, has fo­cused re­lent­lessly on is­sues of great­er im­port­ance to wo­men—has run up the score even high­er among fe­male voters.

The “gender gap”—the dif­fer­ence between Re­pub­lic­ans’ usu­al mar­gin of vic­tory among men and Demo­crats’ usu­al mar­gin of vic­tory among wo­men—is noth­ing new. It has been evid­ent for years in al­most every elec­tion up and down the bal­lot. But a Na­tion­al Journ­al ana­lys­is of pub­lic polls, and in­ter­views with strategists from both parties, sug­gests that the gap has bal­looned to his­tor­ic pro­por­tions across 2014’s battle­ground states. Demo­crats are run­ning cam­paigns de­signed to press an ad­vant­age among wo­men that is help­ing the party com­pete in a num­ber of races des­pite an un­friendly polit­ic­al cli­mate and steep GOP ad­vant­ages among men. Mean­while, Re­pub­lic­ans are search­ing for is­sues to com­bat the trend with fe­male voters.

“I think the gender gaps are grow­ing com­pared to past elec­tion cycles,” said Matt Canter, the Demo­crat­ic Sen­at­ori­al Cam­paign Com­mit­tee’s deputy ex­ec­ut­ive dir­ect­or. “We’ll see how that turns out, but that’s cer­tainly what the pub­lic and in­tern­al polling shows, in every race across the board.”

It’s a trend sev­er­al Re­pub­lic­ans privately ad­mit­ted they are watch­ing nervously, though some point out that one end of the grow­ing gap isn’t bad news for the GOP. “I haven’t seen gender gaps like this in any race un­til this year, and we’re see­ing them all over the place,” said Nicole Mc­Cle­s­key, a New Mex­ico-based Re­pub­lic­an poll­ster for Pub­lic Opin­ion Strategies. “Typ­ic­ally people say we’re in bad shape with wo­men, but it’s also that Demo­crats are not do­ing well with men. That’s why the gap is ex­plod­ing like it is.”

In Sen­ate and gov­ernor’s races since 2004, the av­er­age gender gap has been 13 points, ac­cord­ing to a re­view of exit polls from the past dec­ade, and just sev­en races (out of more than 200 meas­ured in that time) have had gender gaps of more than 30 points. (The 2010 Col­or­ado Sen­ate race, in which Re­pub­lic­ans car­ried male voters by 14 points but lost among wo­men by 17 points for a 31-point gender gap, is one rare ex­ample.)

Since Au­gust, though, in­de­pend­ent live-caller polls of Sen­ate and gubernat­ori­al battle­grounds have had an av­er­age gender gap of more than 20 points, and the gaps have topped 30 points in mul­tiple polls of three races: the North Car­o­lina and Iowa Sen­ate con­tests and the Mas­sachu­setts gubernat­ori­al elec­tion. There are only three battle­grounds where Demo­crats have trailed among wo­men in a Sen­ate or gubernat­ori­al con­test, and only an­oth­er three where Re­pub­lic­ans have trailed among men in any in­de­pend­ent live-caller poll.

What We're Following See More »
Obama: Country Is Stronger Than Eight Years Ago
7 minutes ago

In a speech that began a bit like a State of the Union address, President Obama said the "country is stronger and more prosperous than it was" when he took office eight years ago. He then talked of battling Hillary Clinton for the nomination in 2008, and discovering her "unbelievable work ethic," before saying that no one—"not me, not Bill"—has ever been more qualified to be president. When his first mention of Donald Trump drew boos, he quickly admonished the crowd: "Don't boo. Vote." He then added that Trump is "not really a plans guy. Not really a facts guy, either."

Kaine Sticks Mostly to the Autobiography
50 minutes ago

Tim Kaine introduced himself to the nation tonight, devoting roughly the first half of his speech to his own story (peppered with a little of his fluent Spanish) before pivoting to Hillary Clinton—and her opponent. "Hillary Clinton has a passion for children and families," he said. "Donald Trump has a passion, too: himself." His most personal line came after noting that his son Nat just deployed with his Marine battalion. "I trust Hillary Clinton with our son's life," he said.

Bloomberg: Neither Party Has a Monopoly on Good Ideas
1 hours ago

Michael Bloomberg said he wasn't appearing to endorse any party or agenda. He was merely there to support Hillary Clinton. "I don't believe that either party has a monopoly on good ideas or strong leadership," he said, before enumerating how he disagreed with both the GOP and his audience in Philadelphia. "Too many Republicans wrongly blame immigrants for our problems, and they stand in the way of action on climate change and gun violence," he said. "Meanwhile, many Democrats wrongly blame the private sector for our problems, and they stand in the way of action on education reform and deficit reduction." Calling Donald Trump a "dangerous demagogue," he said, "I'm a New Yorker, and a know a con when I see one."

Biden: Obama ‘One of the Finest Presidents’
2 hours ago

Vice President Biden tonight called President Obama "one of the finest presidents we have ever had" before launching into a passionate defense of Hillary Clinton. "Everybody knows she's smart. Everybody knows she's tough. But I know what she's passionate about," he said. "There's only one person in this race who will help you. ... It's not just who she is; it's her life story." But he paused to train some fire on her opponent "That's not Donald Trump's story," he said. "His cynicism is unbounded. ... No major party nominee in the history of this country has ever known less."

Trump and Clinton Equally Disliked
6 hours ago

According to the most recent Gallup poll, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are equally disliked. The poll, conducted between July 18 and July 25, shows both major party candidates for president are viewed favorably by 37 percent of respondents and unfavorably by 58 percent of respondents. This poll is bad news for Clinton, who has received better favorable and unfavorable ratings in nearly every poll over the last year.