If Quinnipiac/CBS polling in swing states ranging from Florida to Ohio is accurate, the 2012 gender gap between male and female voters could be more than twice as great it was in 2008. Forbes attributes the gap to the defection of blue collar "waitress moms" to the Obama camp. But the difference is so dramatic that it cannot be just "waitress" or "secretary moms" expressing a preference for the president.
Contrary to some reports, Barack Obama did not enjoy the biggest voting gender gap in U.S. history in 2008. According to the Center for American Women in Politics (CAWP) at Rutgers, Barack Obama had a 7 point gender gap advantage with women in the last presidential election. The biggest electoral gender gap was the 11 point advantage held by Bill Clinton in 1996.
As PolicyMic Editor Sam Meier wrote yesterday, "'Women’s issues' encompass all kinds of political, social, and economic issues, most (arguably all) of which interact with each other in complex ways."
Current explanations of this historic, extremely wide gap are simplistic. According to Carroll Doherty of the Pew Research Center, women in general prefer a more robust social program "safety net" to men, and are more comfortable with a larger, more encompassing government. According to Doherty, a combination of Romney's statements about 47% of the population receiving a government check, and his "smaller government" campaign has led to Romney's loss of female voter support. "Women's reproductive rights" or any of the other wedge issues brought up by the Obama campaign have had little impact according to Pew reports.
Quinnipiac's poll of Ohio voters in October, 2008, showed a 12 point gender gap in Obama's favor. Exit polling showed only a 2 point gender gap in the state on election day. In Florida in 2008, Quinnipiac's mid-October polling showed a 5 point gender gap between Obama and McCain, with exit polls showing only a 1 point gap on election day.
Women may well prefer Barack Obama if they believe Romney/Ryan would slash every government program Libertarian style, or like Rick Perry, simply cut out whole government departments, even ones whose names they can't remember. I can also think of a powerful pro-Obama influencing factor among women not mentioned by Pew, Forbes or NPR: Bill Clinton.
I think many women have been influenced by Bill Clinton's public defense of and support for Obama. A similar surge in female support for Obama occurred in 2008 after John McCain's abandonment of his campaign to rush back to Washington at the start of the financial crisis, sealing his image as not a war hero, but rather a "tiny nervous granny."
During the 2000 election, Al Gore's support among women voters was 10% greater than among men. The difference in that election wasn't the presence of Ralph Nader, who garnered only 2% of women's votes, it was the absence of Ross Perot, who got 17% of women's votes in 1992, and 7% in 1996. In 1992, George H.W. Bush and Ross Perot got a combined total of 54% of the vote among women. Bill Clinton first won the presidency with far less than 50% of the vote. After four years, women had come to trust Bill Clinton and his presidency, and he was rewarded with an historic amount of female voter support.
Mitt Romney is not in a good situation with women voters right now, although it's unlikely there is such a dramatic disadvantage as these recent polls indicate. Romney could turn this situation around quickly if he is able to show voters, men and women, that he can get people and the government working again. Women voters don't just want "bigger government," as Pew indicates. They want government to do its job to the best of its abilities ... those are two very different things. Focusing on a simple thing like sticking to a budget while getting results would be a powerful motivator for most female voters. Bill Clinton reminded voters that he did precisely that during his presidency; Barack Obama is currently reaping the benefits.