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Right Turn
Posted at 05:50 PM ET, 02/14/2012

Santorum is from Mars, Romney is from Venus?

In the latest spate of national polls, Rick Santorum and Mitt Romney are essentially tied. But looking below the top line numbers, one of the items that stands out most starkly is the gender gap. In the most recent CNN poll Mitt Romney has a gap of 11 points (he draws 38 percent of women but only 27 percent of men). Rick Santorum on the other hand gets 37 percent of men and 29 percent of women. Why is that?

For starters, Ann Romney has done an excellent job softening her husband’s image and wooing female voters, both on the stump and in media appearances. For reasons that aren’t clear, Karen Santorum, although very smart and appealing, has been heard from much less frequently.

More importantly, there is a substantial difference in personality between the two candidates that is even greater than their policy differences. This comes through on air, in big settings and one-on-one.

The vibe you get from Santorum (which matches his reputation in the Senate) is a pugnacious fighter. He doesn’t give ground, and with his success in the race and the polls has come a more combative persona. Romney rigged CPAC. Boom! Obama runs over religious people. Bam! He fires off the charges and seeks to lead the troops up the hill. (We certainly saw that at CPAC.) It’s apparent one-on-one when he responds — rat-tat-tat — to questions. In speeches and interviews, he doesn’t so much engage as blast away at the opposition. You are simply a witness to his punches and jabs.

All of this has won him support with the base, which is looking for a no-holds-barred conservative. But women may see his confidence as strutting and his determination as rigidity.

Romney is quite different. He’s not the best orator in a large hall and the shouted cadence of political rhetoric doesn’t come naturally to him. His tone is more conversational and less assertive. He smiles much more than his rival and is more inclined to use humor (sometimes not so successfully) than Santorum. In person, his tone is conversational and less staccato. He aims to persuade and not to dominate the conversation. He’s been kidded about being a 1950’s TV dad-type, but there is something to that. He’s not as fiery as Santorum, but he is calm and far less personally aggressive than Santorum in both tone and body language. He seeks to reassure, not to bowl over.

Neither style is “wrong” or inherently better. But those innate personality differences are picked up by voters. Women may feel more comfortable with Romney; men perhaps find him too “soft.” Santorum struts like an athlete and gives off the “I am in charge” vibe. Men may see a leader while women may see a domineering figure.

Politicians can change positions and go to debate school. They can take voice lessons. But they can’t really change who they are. Voters, over time, get a sense of who the candidates are, and men and women, seeing the very same candidate, may in fact have opposite reactions.

By  |  05:50 PM ET, 02/14/2012

 
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