Healthcare reform closed the gender gap

One of the most interesting effects of last week’s election was the closing of the gender gap. Since researchers began tracking male and female voting patterns in the early 1980s, women have consistently — and strongly — favored Democrats over Republicans. In fact, in the 2008 presidential election, women voted for Barack Obama over John McCain 56-43, a 13-point advantage.

But last week, all this changed. Women continued to vote in higher numbers than men, but support was evenly divided between the two parties. According to CNN’s National House Exit Poll, women favored Republicans, 49-48.

Political analysts love to debate what motivates female voters, but it’s clear the Democrats’ robust economic agenda did not fare well among women in 2010.

Specifically, the recent healthcare overhaul was the straw that broke the Democrats’ back. Some liberal feminist leaders like Terry O’Neill, president of NOW, claim they were disappointed that “the White House did not fight for women in healthcare” — by which she means they were angered by a provision in the law that restricts how private insurance companies offer abortion services.

But O’Neill is not representative of most female voters.

IWF tracked women throughout the healthcare debate and found they were overwhelmingly opposed to a government takeover of healthcare. Women oppose the healthcare law — and by extension President Obama and the Democrats in Congress — because they understand the legislation will not improve the lot of women — or men, for that matter.

Women recognize that a successful healthcare system is one that allows for the greatest freedom of choice. And according to IWF polls, women demonstrated a healthy skepticism toward the ability of government to micromanage medicine. In fact, more than half of women surveyed believed government interference would decrease the quality of care.

Women voters are not a monolithic voting bloc, yet Democrats treat them that way. Lawmakers could have advanced sensible, individual market-based reforms that would have maintained the foundation of our existing healthcare system, improved care and driven down costs. Instead, they tried to make up for a disastrous healthcare bill by playing gender politics. They talked up the fact that being a woman is no longer a “pre-existing condition,” and they flaunted do-nothing legislation like the Lilly Ledbetter Act.

Democrats underestimated female voters this election season. Women realize that trying to negotiate specific advantages for themselves — whether it’s in healthcare or the workplace — doesn’t come without a cost. The closing of the gender gap last week tells me Democrats still don’t understand that.

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