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Sun Nov 11, 2012, 05:03 PM

Yes, if you want to break white women into smaller voting blocks...

The *much* larger block -- that which broke heavily for Romney -- is made up of wealthier, older, more religious, and more racist white women. Clearly, more white women were college educated in 2012 than 2008 and 2004, but Romney outperformed both McCain and Bush with white women. All things considered, namely his stance toward abortion, and "the outrageous remarks of Republicans like Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock," I found the reverse gender gap most startling.

ALL white women
2004 Bush 55%, Kerry 44%
2008 McCain 53%, Obama 46%
2012 Romney 56%, Obama 42%

Even then, though, the gender gap needs interpreting carefully. It isn’t accurate to say that women as a whole are suddenly turning their backs on the G.O.P., and that this explains Romney’s defeat. The gender gap isn’t anything new. According to the exit polls, it was actually a bit bigger in 2008, when Obama got fifty-six per cent of the female vote and John McCain got forty-three per cent. Given the margin of error attached to these polls, a difference of two points—a thirteen per cent gender gap in 2008 versus an eleven per cent gender gap in 2012—isn’t statistically meaningful. But it indicates that Romney did make a bit of progress in attracting female voters, even as his own evolving stance on abortion and birth control, as well as the outrageous remarks of Republicans like Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock, made his task more difficult.

And that progress was wholly due to his success in appealing to white women. If Romney had exhibited similar strength in appealing to non-white females, particularly Hispanics, it would have made a big difference, but he couldn’t manage it. To the contrary, he did worse than his Republican predecessors. In 2004, more than a third of Hispanic women voted for Bush, and in 2008, thirty per cent of them voted for John McCain. This year, just twenty-three per cent of Hispanic women voted for Romney.

Why did so many white women vote for Romney despite his shift to the right on women’s issues during the G.O.P. primaries? One way to tackle this question is to ask why so many white men voted for him. Surely, many of the same factors that motivated white male Romney supporters played into the decision-making of white female Romney supporters. After all, in many cases, the members of the two groups are married to each other, and are shaped by the same cultural and economic environment. (To be clear, I am not suggesting that white women vote Republican because their husbands do. Women make up their own minds.)

Without much doubt, attitudes about race—and even outright racism—played a role, although one that is hard to quantify. But it’s far from the only thing. Income is important. On average, white men and women tend to be richer than non-whites, and voting Republican is strongly correlated with income. (In families that made less than a hundred thousand dollars a year, Obama won by eight points. In families that made more than a hundred thousand dollars a year, Romney won by ten points.) Age is another factor. Whites, on average, tend to be older than non-whites, and older people (male and female) tend to vote Republican in greater numbers. Religion is also part of the story. Most white women, like most white men, are churchgoing Christians, a group that is strongly Republican—especially evangelicals, who voted for Romney by almost four to one. Then there is ideology. Just as there are conservative men, there are conservative women.

Of course, all these factors were also present in 2008. The reason Romney did a bit better than McCain among white women is probably that they viewed him as a stronger candidate on economic issues, which are as important to women as to men. Or maybe they just saw him as a more plausible President than the aging war hero.

The key point is that voting against Obama wasn’t just a white-guy thing. A whole range of racial, cultural, and economic factors contribute to the dislike of the President among various chunks of the white population—particularly the chunk that resides inland and away from the big cities. White men may be particularly prone to Obama-phobia, but they aren’t the only ones. Unfortunately, many of their wives, daughters, and girlfriends feel the same way.

So it appears the biggest factor is that white women -- old and *young,* alike -- got wealthier from 2004 to 2012. Secondarily, as they got older, they became more conservative. One way of looking at this is that, over this span, all white women became more educated: more white women in their 60s today have college degrees than they did 30 years ago. The same is true of younger white women. Again, it appears that white, college educated women become more conservative as they grow wealthier and older. In the end, not much different than white men. But considering the way women are treated by Republicans, I find this truly startling.

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