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Rick Santorum doesn’t have a (Republican) woman problem

at 11:53 AM ET, 03/20/2012

Judging from the coverage of Rick Santorum’s presidential campaign over the last few weeks, you might think that the former Pennsylvania Senator’s numbers would be cratering among women.

But you would be wrong. Way wrong.

In a new Washington Post-ABC poll, Santorum’s numbers among Republican and Republican-leaning women have soared over the past month. He now has the highest favorability rating among that group of any of the top-tier Republican presidential candidates.

Here’s a chart — put together by the terrific Post polling team (@postpolls on the Twitter machine) detailing the survey results:

The poll numbers reinforce findings from recent exit polls that suggest Santorum is holding steady — if not strengthening — among Republican women. In Alabama, Santorum beat former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney by eight points among women; in Mississippi, Santorum took 35 percent among women to 32 percent for Romney.

There are a variety of theories as to why Santorum’s numbers among women have improved even amid an onslaught of negative press regarding comments he has made about contraception and women’s rights.

One is that Santorum’s rise in favorability among women in the Post-ABC poll is due less to the positions he has taken on women’s issues than to the fact that he went from a largely unknown figure in January to the main alternative to Romney in March. Santorum’s numbers among men have also bumped up — although far less significantly — over the past few months.

The second theory is that all of the negative press has convinced many Republican women that Santorum is the victim of a relentless attack from the national media, which most GOP voters — men and women — believe to be biased in favor of Democrats. Being hammered by the media then — regardless of the reason — is a sort of badge of honor for Santorum.

The third potential reason for Santorum’s improved position among Republican women is that he has successfully framed the issue as one of government imposing on people’s personal beliefs — an argument that hits home with the GOP base. Karen Santorum, the candidate’s wife, made that case during an appearance on CNN Monday night. “I think the issue is the government forcing people to go against their conscience,” she said. “That’s really the issue here.”

Regardless of the reason, it’s clear that Santorum’s comments have not hurt him one bit with his target audience at the moment: Republicans — and, in particular, Republican women.

That said, if Santorum does become the Republican presidential nominee, his positions almost certainly will be far more problematic for independent women who are widely assumed to be the swing voting bloc this fall.

 
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