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Right Turn
Posted at 03:00 PM ET, 02/22/2012

Santorum scares off women voters

Right Turn spotted this trend some ago: Rick Santorum has a problem with women voters. What started as a gap has now become a gender gulf:

A gender gap for Rick Santorum has surfaced in the most recent set of polls released before next week’s primaries, with women in Arizona supporting Mitt Romney over Mr. Santorum by nearly 2 to 1.
This is the first time in the campaign that polling in various states, as well as exit polls, has shown that Mr. Santorum’s backers have noticeably tilted toward men.
The latest poll, conducted in Arizona by NBC News/Marist and released Wednesday, showed that women support Mr. Romney over Mr. Santourm 46 percent to 23 percent. In addition, Mr. Romney has an eight percentage point lead among men.

Now these are Republican women, many of whom are pro-life and therefore the female sub-group that would be most inclined to favor him. They, however, don’t seem to share Santorum’s views and that of the right-wing mostly-male blogosphere that he is being persecuted because he is a social conservative. He’s told them women work because they want too many “things” (i.e. they are greedy) or because “radical feminists” conned them (i.e. they are fools). He pronounced that women don’t belong in combat. He declared contraception harms women and prenatal testing is to facilitate abortions. He is dogmatic and sometimes angry. He is pushing special tax breaks for an industry in which women are disproportionately under-represented. (In 2009 women held 29 percent of manufacturing jobs as compared to about 50 percent of jobs in the economy as a whole.)

Given all that, it is surprising he isn’t doing even worse among women voters. It also suggests a flaw in his argument that he is going to win over swing states in the Rust Belt. For example, still looking at only Republicans in Michigan, “Men were evenly split between the two top candidates, but 39 percent of women went for Mr. Romney to 33 percent for Mr. Santorum, a former Pennsylvania senator.”

When you look back at exit polling over the last few presidential elections, the GOP candidate has not carried the women vote overall (Sen. John McCain got 43 percent of women in 2008. George W. Bush got 48 percent in 2004), although they have been competitive. Moreover, Republicans have done fairly well with married women (McCain got 47 percent of married women with children and 53 percent of married women with no children in 2008.) GOP presidential candidates have also done better with white women (in 2004 Bush got 55 percent of these voters).

In other words, it’s hard to win in the general election if you can’t be at least competitive for female voters and do well against sub-groups of women voters. Santorum is proving himself to be decidely unpopular with female voters, even in Republican primaries. Santorum will struggle in the GOP primary if he continues to repel women; in the general election, he’ll get clobbered if women voters flee in droves.

Perhaps when discussing electability we should not focus solely on geographic (Rust Belt) or class (blue collar) appeal but at gender appeal as well. It might put Santorum’s rhetoric and electability arguments in their proper perspective.

By  |  03:00 PM ET, 02/22/2012

 
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