In the wake of the debate over the White House’s contraception mandate, are women turning away from Mitt Romney and looking toward Obama? Not necessarily. Ever since culture wars issues like abortion and contraception became a major focus in the 2012 election, strategists have had their eyes on women, and new surveys are starting to provide some clues as to what they think about it. To be sure, the contraception debate has allowed the Obama campaign to draw strong contrasts with some of the Republican candidates, which may help bring moderate and Independent women back into the fold. But it’s a mistake to underestimate the women who oppose abortion and regulations like the birth control mandate. Even if Obama is siphoning off Romney’s support among moderate women, they’re only part of the story.
At Talking Points Memo, Kyle Leighton argues that the GOP’s sometimes-frontrunner, Mitt Romney, has suffered a “precipitous drop in support among women voters” over the past three months. Leighton attributes this to Romney’s choice to “echo” the refrain that the White House’s contraception mandate violates religious liberty, while noting that the return of “culture war” issues also seems to be pushing Obama’s favorability up. But a new Washington Post/ABC News poll shows that it’s not just Obama who’s stealing the loyalty of Romney’s female supporters – it’s Rick Santorum.
According to the poll, “popularity among GOP women has moved up 13 points since January, with the biggest bump in the past week, so that 57 percent hold a favorable view. Santorum is now within reach of Romney on that score: Sixty-one percent of Republican women view Romney favorably. Romney has higher negative ratings among GOP women than Santorum does — 28 percent to 18 percent — and those negative ratings of Romney have grown over time.”
Women in general tend to be more religiously committed than men, and this is particularly true of conservative women. Thus, while moderate and liberal women may prefer the president’s decision, it’s likely that conservative women actually side with Santorum. For example:
- Less than half (46%) of white evangelical Protestant women believe that all employers should be required to provide their employees with health care plans that cover contraception, compared to 62% of white mainline Protestant women and 61% of Catholic women.
- Only 4-in-10 Republican women agree with the general idea of the contraception mandate, compared to 78% of Democratic women.
- Nearly 7-in-10 (69%) women age 18-49 (i.e., women of reproductive age) agree with the general idea of the contraception mandate, compared to 54% of women over the age of 50.
By neglecting to take a strong stance against no-cost birth control and for religious liberty, Romney could find himself trapped in the muddy middle with a key demographic. For moderate and Independent women, Obama’s stance on birth control and religious liberty is undoubtedly more appealing. But it’s crucial to remember that if many of these women are leaving the Romney camp, it’s not because he’s too conservative on social issues.