Now, female voters appear to be swinging back to Democrats.
A number of polls show that Obama’s approval among women has risen significantly since December, even as it has remained flat among men. The same trend, which began before the controversy in recent weeks, is also showing up further down the ballot.
When a Wall Street Journal-NBC News survey asked in the summer which party should control Congress, 46 percent of women favored Democrats and 42 percent preferred Republican control.
But in a survey released Monday, compiling data since the beginning of the year, that figure had widened considerably to a 15-point advantage for the Democrats, according to polling by the team of Democratic pollster Peter Hart and Republican Bill McInturff. Fifty-one percent favored Democratic control; only 36 percent wanted to see the Republicans in charge.
Both sides have tried to shape the narrative in this battle for and about women. But many Republicans are beginning to wish they had never waded into what has become a heated conversation over contraception, who should have it and what it says about people who use it.
GOP pollster Kellyanne Conway, an adviser to presidential candidate Newt Gingrich’s campaign, said Republicans need to return to pocketbook and fiscal issues. “We know what works,” she said, “and we need to get back to it.”
Sen. Olympia J. Snowe (R-Maine) recalled in an interview organizing meetings at the Reagan White House in the 1980s to help Republicans grapple with what was being dubbed the “gender gap.” Since then, she said, “we had made quantum leaps.”
“We really don’t want to reignite a disparity of support between men and women,” she added, saying the debate over contraception “could create some serious fractures among women if we’re not careful. It feels as if we are going back to another era.”
In focus groups, said Democratic pollster Celinda Lake, what women are expressing is not anger at the positions Republicans are taking but frustration with the amount of attention reproductive issues are getting.
“Particularly among blue-collar women,” she said, “what we hear is, ‘How can you be arguing over this when Rome is still burning for me and my family?’ ”
Even the wife of presidential contender Rick Santorum has told him to quit trumpeting his opposition to birth control.
“My advice to him was stop answering the question,” Karen Santorum told Politico. “Tell them, ‘I’m not going to answer this question. Let me tell you what I know about national security. I know a lot about national security.’ ”