By Dr. Kristi Winters

It is no secret that the Republican Party has a problem with women voters and an edge with men. President Obama won women voters by 12 percent and lost men’s votes by 8 percent in the 2012 election. That cumulative 20 point difference between men and women voters was the largest ever observed since Gallup began collecting data in 1952 (Gallup, 2012).

However, that aggregate data obscures important variation. Known as the ‘marriage gap’, single and married women’s voting patterns differ.  Romney did better among married women than Barack Obama, 53 percent for Romney to 46 percent for the President. The opposite was true for single women, 63 percent of whom voted for Obama (McDonnell, 2012).

Another socio-demographic cleavage between women’s votes is race.  White women were more likely to vote for Romney than the President, 56 percent to Obama’s 42 percent.  Women in every other racial category were far more likely to support the President: 96 percent of black women and 76 percent of Latinas (Wilson, 2012).[i]

These figures help up to build up a mental image of the women who are most likely to vote Republican: white, married women.  Add in the information on religiosity (especially belonging to an evangelical form of Christianity) and income (the higher it is the more likely you are to vote Republican) and we can refine the picture of the reliably Republican woman voter even further. 

That is what makes the results of a poll published this month so shocking to me. It seems that on the issue of a government shutdown, the GOP is manufacturing its own, unnecessary intra-party shutdown gender gap.  And it’s a big one.

David Winston conducted a national survey of 1,000 registered voters between July 31 and August 1, 2013 (York, 2013). Respondents were given the following question: ‘Some members of Congress have proposed shutting down the government as a way to defund the president’s health care law.” People were then asked to indicate if they were in favor of that idea or opposed to it.

For all respondents to the survey, 71 percent indicated opposition to the idea, 23 percent favored it.  For Republicans, 53 were opposed and 37 percent were in favor.  But what I found fascinating was the internal Republican gender gap the survey found.

Republican men narrowly support the idea of a shutdown, 48 percent in comparison with the 41 percent who oppose it. This number would indicate that the GOP is not wrong in pushing the idea of a shutdown, and this view reflects the plurality view of its base. It would seem to indicate that Senators Mike Lee and Ted Cruz reflect the views of the people who elected them.

And you might be right in thinking that until you look at the numbers for Republican women in this survey. A whopping 61 percent of Republican women oppose a federal government shutdown in this survey, compared with only 29 percent who support it.

The Mike Lees and Ted Cruzs of the Republican world are not speaking for all Republicans.  They are Republican men speaking to other Republican men and ignoring the views of, what this survey suggests, is the view of the vast majority of Republican women.

After the 2012 election, an election characterized by the phrase ‘war on women’ and the meme ‘binders full of women’, the Republican National Committee published the results of a deep introspection – some called it an autopsy – of their 2012 election cycle.  In their ‘Women’ section, they wrote, ‘…when developing our Party’s message, women need to be part of this process to represent some of the unique concerns that female voters may have’ (RNC, 2013:19).

If we compare the political strategies offered by radical Republican members of Congress to these polling, the results the obvious conclusion is that the GOP hasn’t yet begun to listen to the women who voted for them, let alone women who do not identify as Republican.

Republican women might favor smaller government and less regulation, but they still want government to function. Those Republican women’s voices might not be the loudest in the room in a town hall meeting, or the most radical on issues of shutdown but Republican women are paying attention. Based on these poll numbers, if the GOP attempts to play chicken with the daily operations of the federal government those silent voices of women could turn into disappearing support at the ballot box.

As Congress reconvenes after the summer recess, elected Republican men, you have been warned.  Defy the silent majority of women in your party at your own peril (and voter base).


Online sources:

Gallup. (2012) 'Gender Gap in 2012 Vote Is Largest in Gallup's History.’

McDonnell, Meg. (2012) ‘The marriage gap in the women’s vote.’ Mercatornet.

Republican National Committee. (2013) ‘Growth and Opportunity Project’ Republican National Committee.

Wilson, David. (2012) ‘The Elephant in the Exit Poll Results: Most White Women Supported Romney’ Huffington Post.

York, Byron. (2013) ‘GOP poll finds strong opposition to government shutdown.’  Washington Examiner.

[i] In this dataset all other races were collapsed into a single category, of which 66 percent of women of all other races supported the President.


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