Lately, the Republican Party has supposedly been reinventing itself to be more attractive to women, minorities, and basically anyone who isn’t a straight, white man. Unfortunately, a recent poll suggests women remain unimpressed, and that could mean the GOP is in for another bumpy ride in 2014.
When it comes to gender politics, Republicans had a disastrous year in 2012. From candidates with a tendency to say obtuse, ignorant, and astoundingly offensive things about women, reproduction, and rape to proposing draconian abortion laws and beyond, the GOP did plenty to lose ground with women. Democrats benefited; President Obama won with a coalition of women, young people, and Americans of color, leaving Republicans staring at a demographic nightmare. The party has since made a token effort at change, but if a recent Yankee Institute poll isn’t just a blip, women aren’t buying it yet.
The conservative Yankee Institute has been commissioning fascinating polls about budget and taxation issues which also measure the popularity and electability of various elected officials. Their latest poll reveals not only a surprisingly decent approval rating for the Democratic governor, but a wide gender gap on the kinds of issues Republicans hope to ride to victory in 2014.
The numbers are striking. Only 42 percent of voters say they’d vote to re-elect Gov. Malloy, which the Yankee Institute rightly points out is a shaky foundation for a campaign at best, but voters split sharply along gender lines. Malloy gets support from only 35 percent of men but draws 48 percent of women, a 13-point gap. However, a generic Republican candidate does far worse with women; 50 percent of men would vote for the Republican while only 28 percent of women would do the same. That’s a massive gap of 22 points. This matters, because in 2010 Malloy lost men by only four points, 51-47, and won women by 10, 54-44. That means that while Republicans continue to poll about half of men, they may have lost significant ground among women in just two years. In other words, if there’s anything to glean from this poll, the GOP could find that 2014 isn’t the cakewalk they’re hoping for.
The gap is even more apparent in the rest of the poll, and this is the really interesting part. Respondents were asked about the budget, and how to fix the deficit, and the most popular of the options was “rely entirely on spending cuts with no tax increases,” which collected 36 percent. However, the gender split is there, too. Twenty percent more men than women liked this idea (46-26), which is by far the most conservative of the options. Sixty percent of men say the budget spends too much, compared to 49 percent of women. 48 percent of men supported the proposed property tax exemption for cars, compared to only 28 percent of women. The most conservative option in most cases shows the largest gender gap. There have been these kinds of gaps in polls before, with women skewing somewhat more liberal than men, but few have been quite this stark.
So what’s going on here? The first possibility is that this poll is an outlier, and that the gap between men and women is not nearly so large. But there’s plenty of evidence from 2012 to suggest the gap is a reality. President Obama defeated Mitt Romney by 11 points among women nationally, and in Connecticut Chris Murphy defeated Linda McMahon among women by a whopping 21 points, despite McMahon spending millions on outreach to them.
Democrats still manage to lose among men, especially white men in rural and suburban parts of the state, but they’re finding they can make up the votes elsewhere to win elections. Republicans, on the other hand, simply can’t win if they do this poorly among women. Worse, it’s not just Republican candidates that women are rejecting, but core Republican ideas about taxes, spending, and the role of government.
So 2014 should be a good year for the GOP, even in the conservative Death Valley of Connecticut. The economy is likely to still be rotten, the budget isn’t going to give anyone relief from hard choices and misery, and midterms during a president’s second term have historically favored the party out of power. But if this gender gap persists, it’s going to be very hard for Republicans to win much of anything.
Susan Bigelow is an award-winning columnist and the founder of CTLocalPolitics. She lives in Enfield with her wife and their cats.