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A permanent gender gap problem for Republicans?

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New poll data from the Pew Research Center suggests that not only does President Obama enjoy a clear edge over former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney among women but that younger women favor the incumbent overwhelmingly, a data point that suggests a potential long term problem for the GOP.

Obama leads Romney among all women by a 53 percent to 40 percent margin, which, interestingly, is down from the 20 point edge that he enjoyed in a March Pew poll.

But dig into the numbers — big thanks to Pew for providing so much subgroup data — and you begin to see that the gender gap could be widening and as permanent as anything ever is in politics.

Here are the breakdowns of women by age group:

The number that really stands out is that among women between the ages of 18-29, Obama is beating Romney by 45 points. Yes, 45. While Obama is leading Romney among all 18-29 years old by 28 points (61 percent to 33 percent), the fact he is down by such a vast margin among young women has to set off red flags in Republican world.

What GOP strategists have to hope is that as these women age, their views on the two parties change. Or, that this massive gender gap among young women is unique to Obama and Romney and won’t be replicated when other candidates run for president in four, eight or twelve years time. Or that the intense focus on contraception and other women’s issue during the Republican presidential primary process is temporarily skewing Romney’s numbers negatively among young women.

What’s clear from a broader historical perspective is that Republicans are teetering dangerously close to the brink when it comes to their losing margins among women. Check out this chart, which details the gender gap in every presidential election since 1980:

Not since 1988 has a Republican presidential candidate won the women’s vote (And George H.W. Bush won women by only a single point.)

In the five presidential elections since 1988, Republicans have won only once — in 2000 — when their nominee lost the women’s vote by double digits. (George W. Bush lost women by 11 points and still won the electoral vote if not the popular vote.)

Lose women by any more than 11 points and it’s difficult for a Republican to get elected to the White House. (Women comprised 53 percent of the overall electorate in 2008 , 54 percent in 2004 and 52 percent in 2000. Women have been a majority of the total vote in every election since 1984.)

Republicans have to hope the yawning gender gap — particularly among young women — is temporary. If it’s not, it could mean big trouble not just for Romney but for Republican presidential nominees in four, eight or even twelve years time.

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