Chris Cillizza, politics reporter for The Washington Post, writes over at “The Fix” today that President Obama doesn’t have a “women” problem. Problem is, he’s wrong. Very wrong.
No, the Ron Suskind book, Confidence Men: Wall Street, Washington and the Education of a President, which describes a hostile work environment for women in the Obama White House, is not the reason for this “women” problem. Nor is the book going to be the downfall of his presidency.
But Cillizza grossly underestimates the gender dilemma facing this president.
The fact is, in 2008, Obama won the majority of the female vote. Today support among female voters has dropped dramatically. Cillizza points to the recent WaPo/ABC News poll that found Obama’s approval rating among women is 47 percent — compared to 38 percent among men. But according to a Gallup poll released the same week, only 41 percent of women “approve” of how the president is handling his job.
Either way — 47 or 41 — anyone who follows public opinion knows trends are more important than a snapshot. The bigger point that Cillizza overlooks is that support among women for the president has been dropping precipitously over the past three years. In the winter of 2009, Gallup found 66 percent of women approved of the president’s performance. The following year, that number dropped to 56 percent. Now that number stands in the low 40s.
It’s true, as Cillizza notes, that since researchers began tracking male and female voting patterns in the early 1980s, women have consistently favored Democrats over Republicans. In 2008 women voted for Obama over McCain 56-43. But he ignores the fact that the gender gap closed during last year’s midterm elections, with women favoring Republicans 49-48. And this is not something to be overlooked.
The question is not about numbers — it’s about why the president is losing support among a group that has consistently and strongly favored Democrats for so long. And the why is what’s stumping Cillizza, and certainly what’s stumping the White House.
The fact is this is an administration that has been praised for paying special attention to women: for signing the Lilly Ledbetter Act, aimed at improving equality in the workplace, recommending more spending on a series of “women’s issues” such as programs to help victims of domestic violence and giving female military personnel serving overseas access to the morning-after pill.
But as I’ve written here before, despite what traditional feminist groups might have the White House believe, playing identity politics is not a surefire path to women’s hearts or votes. Political analysts love to argue over what drives women to the polls, which should tell us that women are not a monolithic voting bloc. Still, Presidet Obama and this White House see gender politics as the key to the woman’s vote.
And this is why, Mr. Cillizza, the president has a “women” problem.
Sabrina L. Schaeffer is a senior fellow with the Independent Women’s Forum and managing partner of Evolving Strategies.