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How Important Was Gender Gap In 2012 Election?


It's MORNING EDITION, from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.


And I'm Steve Inskeep. Good morning. Let's talk about the gender gap in the election results. We're joined now by Democratic pollster Celinda Lake. She's on the line. Welcome to the program.

CELINDA LAKE: Thank you for having me.

INSKEEP: And we're expecting a Republican pollster along shortly, as soon as we establish communications. But let's start talking here. Exit polling, of course, showed a gender gap last night. Men – more men, anyway, went for Romney. More women went for Obama. Why?

LAKE: There were a couple of reasons. First of all, women are more Democratic in their orientation, anyway. And that started, actually, in 1980 with Ronald Reagan.

INSKEEP: Mm-hmm.

LAKE: Secondly, women really felt that Barack Obama was more in touch with their lives, and that he would develop economic policies that would help their families more. And that was an argument that really got culminated at the end of the election. Women were back and forth on that issue during the fall, but really came to conclude that it was a combination of not just getting the economy going, but who you're going to get the economy going for - me and my family.

And then women see more of a role for government...

INSKEEP: Well, let me stop you there, for a moment...

LAKE: Sure.

INSKEEP: ...and bring Kellyanne Conway into the conversation. She's a Republican pollster. We've just been hearing Celinda Lake say that - according to polls, anyway - that women told pollsters that they found President Obama more in touch with their concerns. I'd like to know, from you - why do you think that there was such a gender gap; that Republicans lost so many women votes?

KELLYANNE CONWAY: Well, the gender gap is not surprising, for a couple of reasons. President Obama, in 2008, carried women by 13 points.

INSKEEP: Mm-hmm.

CONWAY: I believe he carried them by about 12 last night, so he's right on track for what he got the first time. The second thing is that traditionally, men – it's an over-generalization, but men tend to favor Republicans; women tend to favor Democrats. I note, with great curiosity, the president did not talk about, you know, putting up the firewall against the so-called War on Women. He didn’t have any of that charged political rhetoric last night.

INSKEEP: Last night.

CONWAY: He was pretty much - humble guy. And I will say that in terms of the gender vote, the real attrition was with Barack Obama among men. He may be the first successfully re-elected president, in modern history, who actually lost more votes among men. And if I were the folks in Chicago today, I'd take a look at that as well.

INSKEEP: OK. Let's talk about both of those things, in the couple minutes we have left. Let's stay with women, for a moment. Kellyanne Conway, I know - and I think you're implying here - that Republicans felt this was a smokescreen; it was so much chaff. If the president got in trouble during the campaign, they'd bring up Todd Akin, of Missouri. They'd bring up a remark by - an embarrassing remark by a Republican. But in the light of day, is there actually a fundamental difference between the parties, on the role of women?

CONWAY: Well, first of all, I really reject this nonsense premise that there are, quote, "women issues." I don’t know when we got into that unfortunate construct because it suggests, by implication, that women can only be talked to from the waist down - which I reject, categorically. I have never, ever - in 25 years in politics - heard anybody refer to, quote, "men's issues." Why? Because all issues are considered to be men's issues.

So I would like all issues to be considered women's issues as well. That does not mean there's not a subset that aren't (technical difficulty) cited in this election. But where are the exit polls showing that women's views on - or this entire conversation about abortion, or contraception, really made the difference in some of these swing states? And that’s a really important point because whenever we talk, it's gone from - you know, abortion to choice to women's issues...


CONWAY: ...to health. And it just - to me, it becomes a real smokescreen against what women are telling pollsters from both sides of the aisle; or that motivating issues for them yesterday, which were predominantly…

INSKEEP: Let me - let me stop...

CONWAY: ...jobs, crime, and health care.

INSKEEP: Let me stop you there because we've just got a few seconds left for Celinda Lake. I want to come back to you on this - the question of men. In a few seconds, why did the president do so poorly with men, and is that a danger signal for the Democratic Party?

LAKE: Well, he did better with women than he did with men; and the key to victory here is for Democrats to win women more by they lose - than they lose men by - which is how we picked up seats in the Senate.

INSKEEP: But is that a danger signal, that....

LAKE: No, it's not a danger signal ...

INSKEEP: ...you would lose men's votes?

LAKE: ...because women vote in higher rates than men, and there are more women voters than men. And I think victory speaks for itself. But I do have to contest what Kellyanne said, which is...

INSKEEP: About five seconds here.

LAKE: ...women voted for Barack Obama also because they wildly favored him on health care. And the highest recall ad out there, was Mitt Romney's support of defunding Planned Parenthood...

INSKEEP: OK, got to stop there. Celinda Lake and Kellyanne Conway, thanks to you both.

LAKE: Thank you very much.

CONWAY: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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