President Obama built his pre-debate national lead over Mitt Romney in part on a strong advantage with women. But with Romney dramatically shrinking the gap among women in some recent polls, the question for Democrats now is whether it’s a temporary blip or part of a broader trend.
The most dramatic shift was in Pew’s national poll Monday, which showed Romney tied with women after trailing by 18 points (Pew had Romney moving from an 8-point deficit among all respondents to a 4-point lead). Nearly as dramatic was Tuesday’s PPP poll showing Romney moving from a 15-point deficit among women to just a 6-point deficit (PPP found Romney up 47-45 overall).
Romney’s campaign has bragged recently about its outreach efforts to female voters, especially working class white women. But that’s a pretty epic shift to attribute to any one campaign move.
PPP’s Tom Jensen suggested that it was hard to divorce Romney’s standing with any one group or sub-group from his debate bump.
“I think Romney’s closing the gap with women is reflective of him closing the gap with most everybody, it’s just part of the overall trend,” Jensen said. “If things go back to normal overall they’ll go back to normal with women, and if they don’t they won’t.”
Republican strategist Ana Navarro points out that women saw the same debate everyone else did in Denver and that if Obama performs the way he did there again, Romney may be able to turn things around with women permanently.
“Whether it is lasting or not depends on what happens next,” Navarro told TPM. “If Biden has a bad debate, its not going to be good and if Obama has a bad second debate, it will be even worse. What it does show is that the women vote should not be taken for granted by either side. We’re women; we reserve our right to change our mind.”
Democratic pollster Anne Greenberg suggested that Romney’s debate surge is likely coming from undecided and persuadable voters, a demographic that skews female and may magnify his gains with women in the short term. But she saw little reason to believe the fundamental dynamics of the race, and Obama’s big lead with women, wouldn’t revert back to the mean.
“It doesn’t make sense that there would be huge demographic shifts — I’m not in panic mode,” she said.
Pew’s president Andrew Kohut speculated that the lack of any discussion of so-called women’s issues like reproductive rights and equal pay laws during the presidential debate may have played a role in their results. Joe Biden may have a good opportunity in the vice presidential debate to make some headway here against Paul Ryan. Not only is Ryan more conservative than Romney on abortion, a topic that’s come up at points throughout the campaign, but Biden has a chance to tout his own record, which includes shepherding the Violence Against Women Act through the Senate.
Democratic-leaning women’s groups also told TPM they aren’t worried Obama has lost his edge with female voters to Romney. They say that once women are reminded of the difference between the Republican and Democratic ticket on issues like abortion, female voters will break for Obama.
“There are three more debates - and he’ll have plenty of opportunities to keep making his case,” said Jess McIntosh, spokesperson for EMILY’s List. “It’s a strong one.”
They got at least some heartening news on Tuesday when CNN released its much-anticipated post-debate poll of Ohio, the first big swing state survey from a major news outlet. Obama not only held onto a 4-point lead among likely voters — he led women voters by 22 points.
Evan McMorris-Santoro contributed reporting.
Benjy Sarlin is a reporter for Talking Points Memo and co-writes the campaign blog, TPM2012. He previously reported for The Daily Beast/Newsweek as their Washington Correspondent and covered local politics for the New York Sun.