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GOP Candidates Must Mind the Gender Gap

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The question remains, “Who will be the nominee?” Gov. Mitt Romney was boosted by wins in the Michigan and Arizona primaries. But with Super Tuesday a day away, the race is far from over. Sen. Rick Santorum has been at the forefront for the past several weeks, and survey polls indicate it is going to stay that way. Still, with the mixed messages sent by so many polls and predictions, how is the electorate to decide which message they can trust? Fortunately, there is one source you can bet will determine the winner of the Republican presidential nominee – women.

Despite being the so-called “weaker sex,” women have incomparable strength at the polls. It is women who decide the important issues on the campaign trail, show up in droves at the voting booths, and ultimately determine the winner of presidential elections. So for the candidate who wants to come out on top on Super Tuesday, I recommend heeding my warning and rallying the support of women.

Starting in 1964, women outnumbered men and became America’s largest voting bloc in presidential elections. According to the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University (CAWP), since 1980 women have consistently comprised the majority of the general electorate. Specifically, in the 2000 presidential race, the females comprised 56.2 percent of the vote, while the male vote reached only 52.8 percent. By 2004, CAWP’s analysis shows the female vote increased to 60.1 percent, while the male vote increased to only 56.3 percent. No doubt, the women’s majority vote has continued to gradually increase over the past sixteen years.

This truth was evident in the 2008 presidential election. CAWP reveals a seven-percentage point gender gap existed between Sen. Barak Obama and Sen. John McCain. A stark 56 percent of women voted for Sen. Obama, who only gained favor with 49 percent of men. Conversely, Sen. McCain received 43 percent of female votes and 48 percent of male votes. And, unfortunately, we all know the outcome of that election.

Right now, Gov. Romney may have won the women’s vote in Arizona and Michigan, but that does not buy him the nomination from the majority of women just yet. More polls indicate that Santorum still leads in Wisconsin and Washington, and in Ohio he leads by 11 points. Most importantly, Ohio polls indicate that Santorum has snagged a whopping 42 percent of the women’s vote compared to Romney’s 33 percent of female support. With things looking this good for Santorum, more women are expected to join the sweater-vest surge.

Meanwhile, former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich’s poll ratings among women have been devastated in recent months thanks to his personal baggage. Women rejected him in large numbers, and he gathered a mere 29 percent of the women’s vote in the Florida primary and only 6 percent of female support in Michigan.

According to polls, the only woman who supports Ron Paul is his wife. (Just kidding!) In Michigan, Paul gathered nine percent of women’s votes and a puny seven percent in Arizona.

Regardless, all hope is not yet lost for Santorum, Gingrich, and Paul.

The candidates must consider the importance of sub-gaps such as marital status and others that exist among women voters. For example, President Obama would have lost the women’s vote and the 2008 election were it not for the support of unmarried women. He split men by a 49/48 percentage, but lost married women by a 47/50 percentage, while a majority of married women coalesced their support around Sen. McCain.

We know that married women, who are largely underreported, overwhelmingly say that Republicans most closely reflect their values. This bodes well for whomever the nominee is if they continue to support the majority of women’s conservative ideologies, whether that be Romney, Santorum, Gingrich, or Paul.

Women of faith, specifically evangelicals, will be a major determinant in this race. A CNN tracking poll has revealed that 42 percent of evangelicals already rally support behind Santorum, while only 24 percent back Romney. This seems understandable, since many evangelicals are not comfortable with the “Mormon thing.” Worse, Romney’s previous support of so-called “domestic partnerships” and ordering Massachusetts’ Justices of the Peace to issue marriage licenses to homosexual couples or be fired, will not sit well with conservative evangelicals.

And let’s not forget Obama’s contraception mandate/religious rights travesty, which will have most women of faith scrambling to support the most traditional conservative.

Ultimately, women will not only decide the GOP nominee; they may also determine the outcome of November’s general election – the most important election of our lifetime.