Republicans have known they have a problem with women voters for decades, but the problem has become especially pronounced in recent cycles. The gender gap among women voters favoring Democrats has only grown wider in the Obama-era. But the first step to crafting a prescription aimed at addressing a problem is to identify it accurately and with clinical precision. To that end, Republican groups commissioned a GOP poll of registered women voters. Their findings were not pretty.
Politico was provided with a copy of the survey’s results, some of which were unsurprising but others were. While it is no great shock that the GOP performs “especially poorly” appealing to women in the Northeast, it is surprising and problematic for the party that they get the same reception from women in the Midwest.
Moreover, the report found that even the GOP’s areas of traditional strength, like financial issues, are met with a cold reception by women due to their opposition to the Republican Party on other issues.
Even on fiscal matters — traditionally the party’s strongest issue set — Republicans hold only slight advantages that do not come close to outweighing their negative attributes. The GOP holds a 3 percent advantage over Democrats when female voters are asked who has “good ideas to grow the economy and create jobs,” and the same advantage on who is “fiscally responsible and can be trusted with our tax dollars.”
When female voters are asked who “wants to make health care more affordable,” Democrats have a 39 percent advantage, and a 40 percent advantage on who “looks out for the interests of women.” Democrats have a 39 percent advantage when it comes to who “is tolerant of other people’s lifestyles.”
Female voters who care about the top four issues — the economy, health care, education and jobs — vote overwhelmingly for Democrats. Most striking, Democrats hold a 35-point advantage with female voters who care about jobs and a 26 percent advantage when asked which party is willing to compromise. House Republicans say jobs and the economy are their top priorities.
The solutions the report offered to GOP candidates to overcome their problems with women were… uninspiring:
The solutions offered include neutralizing Democratic attacks that the GOP doesn’t support “fairness” for women; “deal honestly with any disagreement on abortion, then move to other issues”; and “pursue policy innovations that inspire women voters to give the GOP a ‘fresh look.’”
The GOP does perform better with married women than they do single women – the poll found that married women back a GOP candidate over a Democrat by 10 points – but this is not enough to close the gender gap. In 2012, women made up 53 percent of the presidential electorate. Barack Obama won that demographic by 55 to 44 percent, despite losing married women (who made up 31 percent of the electorate) by 53 to 46 percent.
Playing off this poll, Meet the Press’s new host Chuck Todd showed he is prepared to ask the tough questions and “demystify” Washington:
“When it comes to women voters, do the arguments about contraception end up putting the party on mute with those same women voters who may like your economic proposals, but say, ‘There’s just too many crazy white guys who have too many crazy ideas about my reproductive system’?” he asked RNC Chairman Reince Priebus.
There isn’t anything mysterious about a clumsily framed Democratic campaign premise disguised as a question. Moreover, Chuck Todd has entirely missed the point of this poll. It is not that the GOP is seen by female voters as a party of men consumed with limiting access to contraception coverage. It is that the party is seen, wrongly in my view, as one which is intolerant of others’ lifestyles and rigid in its beliefs.
But more than providing fodder to buttress road-worn Democratic talking points, this report does have some lessons to teach Republicans. While Barack Obama’s coalition of minority voters is unlikely to also be Hillary Clinton’s coalition of minority voters, the current level of Democratic support among women is unlikely to change in 2016. If anything, the Democratic advantage among women may become more pronounced.
The GOP is smart to begin to address this disparity. A libertarian streak rising in the GOP may address the perception among women that the party is a monolith which is generally intolerant. Only time will tell, but time is running out.