Mitt Romney doesn’t have a woman problem — at least not yet

October 18, 2012

In the wake of Mitt Romney's comment in Tuesday night's debate that he had requested  "binders full of women" to fill cabinet posts when he was governor of Massachusetts, Democrats quickly sought to seize on the remark as yet more evidence that the GOP nominee just doesn't get it when it comes to female voters.

Conference calls were organized, tweets were, um, tweeted, and even President Obama made reference to the Romney "binder" comments during a Wednesday rally in Mt. Vernon, Iowa and then again today in Manchester, New Hampshire.

For all of the time and energy Democrats devoted to "binders" -- and to the broader "war against women" allegedly being carried about by Republicans -- there is little evidence in polling (at least not yet) that Romney is underperforming the gender gap that has been in place between the two parties since 1992. 

Here's a look at the Obama versus Romney head-to-head among female registered voters in Washington Post-ABC News polling dating back to the spring:

In early April as Romney was emerging bruised from a contested Republican primary fight, he clearly had work to do in terms of healing relationships with female voters. But, subsequent polls suggest he has done that; in the three Post-ABC polls conducted since September, Romney has trailed Obama by 7, 10 and 9 points among registered voters.

And it's not just registered voters. Among likely female voters the story is similar. Here's that chart since late August:

Let's assume for the sake of argument that Romney loses women on Nov. 6 by 8.5 points -- his average deficit in those three polls among registered voters. (His average deficit among likely voters in those same three polls was 7 points.)

That would be a better showing among women than John McCain made in 2008 (lost women by 13), George Bush made in 2000 (lost women by 11) and Bob Dole made in 1996 (lost women by 16). It would be roughly equal to the eight-point margin that George H.W. Bush lost women to Bill Clinton in 1992.

So, for all of the chatter about Romney's women problems, he is currently positioned to do as well or better than every Republican presidential candidate among female voters save one: George W. Bush in 2004 who lost among women by just three points to Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry.

Now, there are a few caveats worth noting here.

First, what the polls among women look like today may not be what they look like in 19 days time. The Obama campaign is pushing hard to make the "binders" comments -- as well as what Romney had to say on abortion during the GOP primary process -- a centerpiece of its closing argument and, given that emphasis, there is the real possibility that the numbers could shift.

Second, what the Obama team is clearly hoping to do with their renewed focus on women is not convince every woman in the country to vote for the incumbent but rather to speak directly to suburban women -- who tend to be fiscally conservative and socially moderate/liberal -- living in places like Virginia and Colorado that Romney is simply an unacceptable alternative for them. And, there are some swing state polls that show Obama with a much wider margin over Romney among women; he led the GOP nominee by 18 points among women in a recent Pennsylvania poll conducted by Quinnipiac University, for example.)

Neither of those twin realities, however, change the underlying poll reality: Mitt Romney is currently doing no worse -- and in several cases far better -- than past Republican presidential nominees among women.  

Chris Cillizza writes “The Fix,” a politics blog for the Washington Post. He also covers the White House.
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Chris Cillizza | October 18, 2012