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Republican Shift Only Part of Story With Women Voters

Cross-posted from New Deal 2.0.

There was a lot of pre-election worry that women would stay home on November 2nd, along with polls suggesting that women were ditching Democrats along with the rest of the country. And indeed, women did vote for Republicans in higher numbers than 2008. But neither party should feel complacent about their support.

While Democrats took a beating on Tuesday, women were the deciding factor in many victories. A quick list of some of the Democratic winners who benefited:

  • More than half of women voted for comeback kid Harry Reid, Senator from Nevada.
  • Richard Blumenthal, running for Senate in Connecticut, had double-digit leads with women over his female opponent.
  • Michael Bennet, Colorado Senator, led with women over his Republican opponent.
  • Joe Manchin's winning coalition included women's support.
  • Ron Wyden and John Kitzhaber in Oregon both drew winning support from women.
  • Women favored New Hampshire's new governor John Lynch, while men split the vote between him and his opponent.
  • Washington's Senator Patty Murray drew her support from women.
  • Two-thirds of women backed New York gubernatorial candidate Andrew Cuomo.
  • Deval Patrick owes his gubernatorial win in Massachusetts to women.
  • And in the West in general, women were a huge factor.

Speculation that women will vote for a woman no matter how conservative her policy positions has also dissipated. Many "mama grizzlies" met with defeat, particularly in the Senate. Sayonara to Sharon Angle, Christine O'Donnell, Linda McMahon, and Carly Fiorina, along with gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman. And their defeat was at the hands of women voting for the opponent. But we also saw some decisive wins for conservative women in three governorships: Nikki Haley of South Carolina, Susana Martinez of New Mexico and Mary Fallin in Oklahoma. Haley seems to have reached more men than women: CNN exit polls show just over half of women voted for her Democratic rival, while her triumph came from a bump in male voters (though exit polling by gender is not yet out for the other two). Palin-picked Senatorial female candidate Kelly Ayotte had perhaps the biggest win with women in New Hampshire, with the help of just over half of them, although she had a much larger majority among men. It's a mixed bag, but it points to the fact that women are nuanced voters who don't automatically vote for someone who shares their gender.

It is clear, however, that women voters swung right enough to greatly narrow the gender gap in this election. So far exit polls show women voting for Republicans over Democrats by a percentage point, compared to 14 points in 2008. And those voting Republican had some legitimate concerns. Charlotte Hayes, writing at Independent Women's Forum, quotes Tony Blankley: "Removing the snake from the garden with a stick was a rejection of the snake, but should not be seen as particularly an endorsement of the stick -- except as the closest available tool with which to eject the snake," and notes that in this election, many felt the GOP was that stick. Before the election, women voiced despair and frustration over the economy while men raged. And women are still frustrated about the economy. As Betsy Reed at The Nation notes, a White House report on its accomplishments for women was "clearly too little, too late," given that women are bearing the brunt of job loses from slashed state budgets. With so much financial hardship, "it's hardly strange that many of them are not feeling especially enthusiastic about politics right now," Reed concludes.

So it's not clear that this was an across-the-line "refudiation" of Democrats, to quote the mother of all mama grizzlies. All in all, women remain a powerful group of voters -- whether provoking gender gap anxiety for Republicans, tipping Democrats into victory, or even withholding votes for Democrats. Their concerns about the economy are worth listening to.