With polls showing Mitt Romney losing ground with women voters, many in Washington have been buzzing in recent days over Romney’s “woman problem.” They’ve got it backward: It is Barack Obama who has the bigger problem with women.
When he took office in 2009, Obama’s job approval rating with women had reached 70 percent; today it has slipped to 49 percent — a precipitous decline of 21 points. This is why the president has been working overtime to court the women’s vote — weighing in on whether women should be admitted to the Augusta National Golf Club (even though nobody asked what he thought); publicly taking the side of a female Georgetown University law student in her spat with Rush Limbaugh; and forcing religious employers to provide coverage for contraception and abortion-inducing drugs.
But here’s the interesting thing: It’s not working. As these controversies have dominated the news in recent weeks, Obama’s approval rating among women has not gone up; it has actually declined slightly. Why is that? Perhaps it’s because country club membership and who pays for birth control are not the issues women voters are most concerned about.
Take, for example, the oft-cited USA Today/Gallup poll showing Obama with an edge over Romney among women in key swing states. Democrats have taken this as evidence that their strategy of accusing the GOP of waging a “war on women” is working. The fact is, that poll contains a lot of bad news for Obama — because on virtually all the key issues women say are “extremely important” to them in influencing their presidential vote, Obama is on very shaky ground. Consider:
● The No. 1 issue women said was a priority for them is health care. Obamacare remains deeply unpopular with the American people, and women are even more opposed to it than men. Polls show 52 percent of women want the Supreme Court to overturn Obamacare, compared to 48 percent of men. If Obamacare is front and center in the fall campaign, the president will be fighting an uphill battle with women voters on the issue.
● The No. 2 issue women identified on their list of priorities: Gas prices. Not a winning issue for the president. Americans disapprove of how Obama is handling the the rise in prices by wide margins.
● The No. 3 issue for women? Unemployment. As Team Romney is quick to point out, women account for more than 92 percent of the job losses since Obama took office, and a recent Pew study found that “women are the only group for whom employment growth lagged behind population growth from 2009 to 2011.” Absent a sudden economic turnaround, unemployment — particularly women’s unemployment — will be a major challenge for the president this November.
●The No. 4 issue for women? The national debt. With his miasma of spending, Obama has presided over the most rapid increase in the debt under any in president American history. Obama has little chance of winning the debate over the debt.
Where does U.S. government policy on contraception rank on the priority list of women voters? Way down at No. 6 (after international affairs).
Far from having the upper hand when it comes to the women’s vote, Obama is either vulnerable or in deep trouble on almost every key issue women voters say they care about. Which means Romney is well-positioned to regain the ground he lost with women voters during a bruising six-month primary. To do so, he simply has to focus on the issues that women have made clear are “extremely important” to them — and exploit Obama’s vulnerabilities in these areas.
Romney appears to understand this. While Team Obama continues to pursue its failing “war on women” strategy, Romney delivered a speech Tuesday in Delaware in which he declared, “The real war on women has been the job losses as the result of the Obama economy.. . . If we’re going to get women back to work and help women with the real issues women care about — good jobs, good wages, a bright future for themselves, their families, and their kids — we’re going to have to elect a president who understands how the economy works, and I do.” His campaign launched a major initiative this week under the banner “Obama Isn’t Working For Women” to highlight Obama’s economic failures and how they affect women and their families.
This is far more likely to resonate with women voters than the president’s fixation with contraception (or Democratic National Committee adviser Hilary Rosen’s condescending declaration that Ann Romney has “never worked a day in her life” because she stayed at home to raise five boys). Not only does Romney’s economic message address women’s concerns, it treats them like grown-ups rather than pandering to them like another special-interest group.
Contrary to the Democrats’ claims, there is no “war on women.” But there is a war for women’s votes. It is a war Romney can win — if he listens to what women want.