Mitt Romney has significantly narrowed the gender gap with President Obama despite massive Democratic attacks on the GOP over a variety of issues.
As recently as April, Obama led Romney by 18 percent among women voters in a USA Today/Gallup poll of 12 swing states. The huge advantage with women gave Obama an overall edge of 9 percent.
Recent polls show Romney has sliced into that lead.
A majority of women have voted for the Democratic presidential candidate in every election going back to 1980. But with the candidates in a dead heat nationally, and neck and neck among male voters, President Obama can’t afford for the gap among women voters to narrow much more.
Romney’s improving fortunes among women has also helped to negate one of the more worrisome trends his campaign faced during the primary season – his historically low favorability rate. According to historical data from ABC News-Washington Post polling, Romney is the only modern-day candidate to have a negative approval rating through the end of May in an election year.
However, this month’s CNN-ORC poll showed Romney inching toward positive ground, at 42 percent favorable and 44 unfavorable, and he went positive for the first time in a Gallup poll released Wednesday, at 44 positive and 42 negative.
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Romney’s favorability rating among women has contributed to this turnaround. While 44 percent of women still have a negative view of Romney in the latest ABC-Post poll, 40 percent now have a favorable view of the presumptive GOP nominee. That’s a 21-point swing from the same poll in April, when only 27 percent held a favorable view of Romney compared to 52 who held an unfavorable view.
The movement has come as Democrats have attacked Romney for “turning back the clock” on women’s issues. On Tuesday, Senate Democrats held a procedural vote on the Paycheck Fairness Act to expand a law that gives women the ability to fight pay discrimination.
At the height of the GOP primary and a battle over the healthcare law’s contraception mandate, the Democratic strategy appeared to work as Democrats accused Republicans of waging a “war on women.”
But since then, the Romney campaign has worked to flip the script by charging that the Obama administration’s handling of the economy is the real issue that affects women.
“The number one issue among women is the sorry state of the economy and the fragile state of our jobs,” said GOP strategist and pollster Whit Ayres. “Mitt Romney has done an increasingly better job of paving a contrasting vision to Obama of a brighter economic future.”
Some closing of the gap was to be expected.
Since claiming the mantle of presumptive nominee, Romney has been bolstered by the support of what had previously been a divided Republican electorate.
“I think it’s likely that conservative women who may have been supporting Santorum, or other candidates, have now come over to the Romney camp,” said Michelle Diggles, senior policy advisor for the centrist think tank Third Way. “There’s a big age gap among female voters, with Obama winning younger women, so my hunch is a that lot of older conservative and Republican women have coalesced around Governor Romney recently.”
In addition, the Obama campaign can point to the president’s consistently positive favorability rating over the past few months, a slight advantage in national polls, and a Pew Research poll released last week which showed the president maintaining a 12-point lead among women that boosted him to a 7-point lead overall.
Anna Greenberg, a principal of Democratic strategic consulting firm Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research, says the recent bump in Republican support among female voters has nothing to do with either party’s success or failure in appealing to women, but is rather a part of the natural ebb and flow of an election cycle.
“During the primaries, Obama’s position improved with everyone,” she said. “Now Romney has closed the gap with every group, and women are no different from anyone else.”
While some have questioned whether the Democratic push on the Paycheck Fairness Act has been effective, Greenberg argued the party should continue that focus in the hope of portraying Republicans as extremists, which she says will help Democrats across all voting blocs.
“For most issues, your gender doesn’t determine how you feel about them,” she said. “There are plenty of men who support equal pay and access to birth control. It’s simplistic to say that they’re just trying to talk to women voters here. The real impact will be in using this as a part of a larger narrative to show where Republicans stand on a range of issues.”
Holding a procedural vote in an election year is nothing new. Greenberg pointed to 2002 when Republicans campaigned on their vote for a prescription drug program despite its failure in the Senate, and Diggles said to expect more of this kind of political wrangling as the election nears.
“Both sides will make these kinds of cases from now until Election Day,” she said. “Sure [the Paycheck Fairness Act] is an important issue, but some on the right are probably under-concerned about it and some on the left are blowing it out of proportion.”