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The 2012 Election Gender Gap - Why Obama Won, Why Romney Lost

Women's Vote Deciding Factor - Why the War on Women & Women's Issues Mattered


The 2012 Election Gender Gap - Why Obama Won, Why Romney Lost

An Obama supporter on Election Night

© Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
Updated November 08, 2012
A presidential election expected to be a long, drawn-out nail-biter was actually an electoral college rout for President Obama that was called just past 11 p.m. ET, although Mitt Romney didn't deliver a concession speech until two hours later.

In hindsight, Obama's win seems so clear-cut and obvious that it's almost unnecessary to dissect the elements of his victory. But one aspect bears serious consideration: the role of women voters in re-electing Barack Obama.

Across the board, women voters supported Obama (55%) far and above Mitt Romney (43%). The percentages fluctuated according to age and stage. Exit polls revealed that single women were the most enthusiastic voting bloc (68% voted for Obama, 30% for Romney), followed by young women age 18-29 (60% vs. 38%) and women with children (56% vs. 43%).

Throughout the election cycle, it was always apparent that women preferred Obama and disliked Romney. Although Team Romney made numerous attempts to narrow the gender gap, they failed...and election night was the final proof.

So what did Romney get wrong and Obama get right in winning the women's vote? And if we pull back from the presidential race and look at the larger political picture, what did the Republican Party do wrong and the Democratic Party do right?

Romney's Negatives

  • Lack of compassion. When Romney was secretly captured on videotape speaking dismissively of the "47% who...are dependent on government....who pay no income tax," it conveyed disdain for a large segment of the population including women with children who rely on government assistance programs such as WIC and SNAP.
  • Out of touch with women. Romney credits his wife Ann for helping him understand what American women want. But as Fox News commentator Juan Williams observed during the Republic National Convention, "She's a very rich woman....[who] did not convince me that [she] understands the struggles of American women in general." This sentiment was echoed by many women who felt that Romney "just didn't get it."
  • Wrong narrative from spouse. At the RNC, like every good political spouse telling her husband's story, Ann made much of the boy whom she'd met at a high school dance. But she failed to sell anything beyond their love story, repeatedly missing opportunities to provide fact-based testimonials regarding his past achievements and future plans.
  • Binders full of women. In describing his attempts to hire women after being elected governor of Massachusetts, Romney explained how he relied on "binders full of women" to find suitable candidates. The awkward language was picked up by social media, but more disturbing was his limited knowledge of qualified women and his objectification of women's skills.
  • Shifting abortion views.Formerly pro-choice, Romney had a change of heart while serving as governor and opposed abortion except in the case of rape or incest. Yet during the RNC, his party passed a platform even more restrictive regarding abortion.
  • Unclear about contraception. Romney opposed contraceptive coverage by faith-based employers, but was quoted as saying that all women "should have a right to use contraceptives," a comment his handlers later walked back.
  • No denouncement of rape remark politicians.When members of his party began to voice their belief in "legitimate" rape, rape as "another form of conception," and girls who "rape easy" in order to support their position that there should be no exceptions for abortion, Romney failed to call out these politicians. His reluctance to speak out gave women the impression that he sanctioned these outmoded views. His support for Senate candidate Richard Mourdock who stated that pregnancy from rape was "God's will," was the final straw for many women voters. Although Romney disassociated himself from the remark, he did not withdraw his support of Mourdock.
  • Repeal of Obamacare. Romney went against public opinion, ignoring the fact that women approved of many aspects of health care reform including the inclusion of coverage for pre-existing conditions, contraception and reproductive care, and children up to age 26.
  • Defunding of Planned Parenthood. By eliminating funding, Romney threatened an organization that provides basic services including cancer screenings for low-income women. This was seen as another of Romney's anti-woman policies.
Republican Party's Negatives Obama's Positives
  • Fair pay legislation for women. Obama's first act as president -- signing the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act -- did not escape the notice of women who saw him as protective of their rights in the workplace.
  • Preventive services under Affordable Care Act. The Obama administration made a point of adding 8 gender-specific benefits such as domestic violence screening, breastfeeding support, and contraceptive coverage.
  • Pro-choice position. Barack Obama has always been upfront about his belief that a woman should have reproductive control of her life, and has vowed to protect Roe v. Wade.
  • Female Supreme Court nominees. The appointment of Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan not only returned two women to the nation's highest court but also added a groundbreaking additional female justice, making the Supreme Court fully one-third female.
  • Spouse promotes accomplishments not relationship. Like Ann Romney, Michelle Obama speaks about her love for her husband and the strength of their relationship. But unlike Ann, she takes it a step further by providing concrete facts about her husband's leadership, his accomplishments and track record, and his administration's goals.
  • Reveals human side. When Rush Limbaugh attacked Georgetown law student Sandra Fluke, Obama reached out to her with a phone call "because I thought about Malia and Sasha....I want them to be able to speak their mind in a civil and thoughtful way. And I don't want them attacked or called horrible names because they're being good citizens."
  • Denounced rape remarks. In addressing questions about the spate of rape remarks by GOP politicians, Obama stated, "I don't know how these guys come up with these ideas....Rape is rape. It is a crime. And so these various distinctions about rape don't make too much sense to me -- don't make any sense to me."
Democratic Party's Positives
  • Supported choice
  • Supported contraception
  • Protection for abortion rights
  • Supported Planned Parenthood
  • House and Senate Democrats denounced Rush Limbaugh's Sandra Fluke remarks
  • Denounced rape remarks by politicians
  • House and Senate Democrats endorsed expanded VAWA legislation
Whether a Republican war on women was deliberately orchestrated or merely the result of a changing culture within the GOP, women felt its impact and voted accordingly in the 2012 elections. Aside from returning Barack Obama to the White House, every single Republican candidate who voiced arrogant opinions on rape, pregnancy and abortion lost his bid for public office.

Go, Sam. "Women’s vote played crucial role in Obama victory." MSNBC at tv.msnbc.com. 6 November 2012.
Morrissey, Ed. "Juan Williams: Ann Romney looked like a 'corporate wife' to me." HotAir.com. 29 August 2012.
"Obama on rape comments: they 'don't make any sense.'" CNN.com. 25 October 2012.

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