Did the ‘war on women’ meme even work?

Ralph Reed (answering the question, What ever happened to that guy?) had an op-ed piece in the WSJ today (“Round Up the Usual Social Conservative Suspects“) bemoaning — as you would expect him to — that once again, social conservatives are being blamed for a Republican defeat.

The main thrust of his piece is that the GOP would push the culture warriors away only at its peril.

Nothing new there. What interested me was this one paragraph in which he was speaking not about Republicans, but about Democrats:

Despite the Obama campaign’s accusation of a Republican “war on women,” Mr. Obama actually won women by a narrower margin than he did in 2008; he lost married women by seven points. Nor did single women—who went heavily Mr. Obama’s way—vote on reproductive issues. Forty-five percent of single women voters listed jobs and the economy as their most important issues, while only 8% said abortion.

That was welcome news to me, given my repeated complaints about the Dems overemphasizing Kulturkampf stuff this year. (I would like very much for the president’s victory to be because of other factors, and for both parties to know that, and in the future act accordingly, so that I don’t have to be quite so appalled at the tenor of campaigns to come. And on the immigration front of the Kulturkampf, there are actually some signs that some Republicans learned something.) Of course, considering the source, I immediately wondered how accurate his characterization was.

That led me to this interesting 2012 exit polls graphic at the NYT site (if you don’t get anything else from this post, go check that out). While the words on the graphic seem to contradict Reed, saying, “Mr. Obama maintained his 2008 support among women,” when you call up the actual numbers (just scroll your cursor over the blue and pink bubbles), you see a slight drop — although it’s only one percent, which is well within the 4 percent margin of error.

But in looking further at the numbers, I saw something that I had forgotten about, if I ever knew — that in 2008, President Obama edged out John McCain among men — the only time the Democratic nominee has done that in the last four presidential elections. Maybe, if they believe their “war on women” meme worked, Democrats should have claimed the Republicans were conducting a “war on men” as well.

I knew without looking that Reed was accurate in saying Obama won among single women and lost among married ones. As for what he said about single women caring far more about the economy than abortion — well, that makes sense (think about it — I would expect pretty much every broad demographic group to cite the economy as a bigger issue than abortion), but I haven’t found data that back it up. Has anyone seen that subset analyzed along those lines? I have not.

I have always believed that we don’t look hard enough at exit polls after elections. Yet in the polling world, that’s where the substance is. Ahead of the election, political junkies mainline polls in their desperate desire to know what might happen. Exit polls are the only kind that tell you what the actual voters who actually showed up were actually thinking on Election Day. Maybe you have to allow a bit for a Democratic bias (Republicans are more likely to refuse to participate in exit polls), but it’s still valuable stuff.

6 thoughts on “Did the ‘war on women’ meme even work?

  1. Phillip

    Well, if nothing else it gave the Democrats at least two seats in the Senate they surely were going to lose. And by “it” I don’t mean the so-called “meme,” I mean the actual words and views and attitudes of the two Republican candidates for Senate from those states.

  2. Brad

    Of course, I pay little attention to that, since I don’t consider congressional races in other states to be any of my business…

    But since you mention it — those were individual incidents that happened long, long after the “war on women” thing had been run into the ground. And if those incidents were part of a Republican “war,” why did so few Republicans stick up for those guys?

  3. Phillip

    Mr. Reed, in trying (naturally and understandably) to justify his professional existence, falls into a logical trap. He cites the fact that Obama did less well among women as somehow proof that voters did not care about widespread GOP attitudes on issues such as reproductive rights, equal pay, etc; but of course Obama also did less well among men, as you pointed out. The economy was the overriding issue, in November as it was in April, May, or June or earlier. Obama was bruised and there was no way he was going to win by the margin he did in ’08; in fact, had the GOP fielded a candidate who could have peeled away more of the middle class, Obama would have lost.

    Reed’s second fallacy is this matter of single women overwhelmingly citing the economy as the most important issue to them vs. abortion as the important issue. Well, again, of course. This does NOT mean however that reproductive rights were not significantly important to these women, just not the number one issue. However, I’m sure there were plenty of single women on the fence about Obama’s handling of the economy and pondering their vote, but the presence of Paul Ryan on the ticket as well as the possibility of Romney getting several SCOTUS picks might well have tipped the balance for them, even if the economy was still their “number one” issue.

    In other words, something not being your number one issue doesn’t mean you don’t care deeply about it and at least factor it in to your decision. Doesn’t it work that way for you too?

  4. tavis micklash

    Phillip says:
    November 26, 2012 at 5:08 pm

    Well, if nothing else it gave the Democrats at least two seats in the Senate they surely were going to lose. And by “it” I don’t mean the so-called “meme,” I mean the actual words and views and attitudes of the two Republican candidates for Senate from those states.

    I believe the “war” on women and the amazingly insensitive comments are connected.

    The republican party has long since courted the “evangelical” sector. They were an essential part of their strategy.

    These morons were allowed to carry the republican banner and therefore any views they voice are a representation of the party. Its the same way for the military. Like it or not if one sailor acts a fool it can ruin relations with an entire country. Just look at Okinawa.

    I know the extreme comments on rape and contraception were the key reason why my wife voted for Obama.

    I think this was more of a symptom of a larger failure of the republican party to broaden their platform. Its time to expand the tent if they want to become relative.

  5. bud

    Phillip took the words right out of my mouth. Brad, you are so caught up in your own thinking on the so-called Kulturkampf issues that you completely miss the point. It’s not about what most women base their votes on, its what a handful of women (and men too for that matter) at the margins base their vote on. It’s not like the Dems and GOP changed direction dramatically on the abortion, contraception issues since 2008, rather it’s the emphasis. The GOP made a bold effort to paint the contraception issue as one of religious freedom. I found that approach highly offensive. And it probably cost the GOP many votes in at least 2 senate races and a handful in the presidential race. So don’t get caught up in the big numbers for the economy. Look instead to the small numbers at the edge and perhaps even more importantly at turnout.

  6. Burl Burlingame

    The “war” on women is largely a war on abortion rights. In the last couple of years there has been a dizzying number of anti-abortion bills introduced and passed by repub legislatures.

    BTW, today the repubs named all their committee heads in the House, a couple of dozen of them. They are all men.


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