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The 2012 gender gap

By - Last modified: April 12, 2012 at 8:58 AM

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A recent Swing States poll reveals that President Obama leads Mitt Romney by 51 percent to 42 percent among all registered voters.

Much of Obama's support comes from women under 50 who support him by a whopping 60 percent to 40 percent. Romney's only main advantage is among men 50 and older where he swamps Obama by 56 percent to 38 percent.

While Romney leads among all men by one percentage point, the president leads among all registered women voters by an eye-popping 18 percentage points. This reflects a much greater disparity among the views of men and women in 2012 than the 12-point gender gap that existed between Obama and McCain in 2008.

Republicans' traditional strength among men "won't be good enough if we're losing women by nine points or 10 points," said Republican strategist Sara Taylor Fagen.

She pointed to the issue of women's reproductive health as having dragged down Romney's support among women of all age groups.

"The focus on contraception has not been a good one for us … and Republicans have unfairly taken on water on this issue," Fagen said.

The so-called Republican "war on women" is fueling the movement of women into the Obama camp, said Obama campaign manager Jim Messina. Romney's plan to "end Planned Parenthood" and his support for policies allowing employers to deny health insurance coverage for contraception have created "severe problems" for him in the general election, Messina said.

Although Messina maintained, "It would be hard for them to win if you have this kind of gender gap," Romney adviser Neil Newhouse said he believes the gender gap will close once the Republican nominee moves closer to the middle and focuses more on economic issues.

Romney has to address the wide partisan gulf between men and women. Although women are more likely than men to self-identify with the Democratic Party, the gap is quite startling. By 41 percent to 24 percent, women consider themselves Democrats. By contrast, men by 27 percent to 25 percent identify as Republicans.

What is driving the gender gap?

Research demonstrates and polls confirm there are a number of interrelated issues that drive a political wedge between men and women. The most apparent is on the general view of government's role in society, even though there are no predictable patterns. For example, on social issues, women are far more supportive of gay marriage than men.

Women also have been more likely to favor an activist government role in addressing health care, education, workplace safety, environmental protection and poverty.

While the gender gap is nothing new, what can Romney do to address this chasm among registered voters?

Chris Dolan is associate professor of political science at Lebanon Valley College and the author of “Striking First,” “In War We Trust” and “The Presidency and Economic Policy.”

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