The evidence that Romney is lagging in the polls because voters are upset about a “war on women” -- rather than because of a bruisingly negative primary campaign or the recovering economy -- is pretty thin. But Republicans are responding not just to the polls but to the persistent mythology of the gender gap.
Ruth Marcus of the Washington Post recently fell prey to this conventional wisdom, writing that “the GOP has suffered from a gender gap in every presidential election since 1980.” Suffered? Of the eight presidential elections from 1980 to 2008, Republicans won five four if you exclude 2000. Republicans carried women, albeit narrowly, three times; Democrats carried men twice. Republicans can lose even while winning men, as in 1996. Democrats can lose while winning women, as in 2004.
The evidence suggests that women are more inclined than men to vote for Democrats, but this gap doesn’t consistently help either party. It isn’t the case that the larger the gender gap, the worse Republicans do. Republicans did seven points better among men than women in 2004, when they won. They did five points better in 2008, when they lost.
Obama barely won men in 2008. If this race is at all competitive, he will lose them this time. And that’s not all we can predict. Romney will win among large subgroups of women: those who are married, those who are white, those who go to church regularly. Gender isn’t the principal determinant of women’s votes any more than it is of men’s.
I love reading about the inside baseball of politics.