Obama’s Diminished Standing Among Women Is Hurting Democrats In The Midterms

To a large degree, the Democratic Party's supposed advantage among women voters appears to not exist this year.

Gender Gap Politics

Democrats have long had an electoral advantage among women, particularly among single and suburban professional women, that has helped propel them to victory in elections both in Presidential and non-Presidential years. In 2008, for example, exit polling showed that President Obama won women by 56% to 49%, and in 2012 the breakdown was 55% to 44%.  The reasons for the disparity in these elections, and in many others at the national, state, and local level have been the subject of speculation for decades ever since the so-called “gender gap” was first noticed. Among the factors that have been cited has been the fact that women tend to have more “liberal” views on economic and pocketbook issues and tend to support a less aggressive foreign policy, although that last one doesn’t really apply to the Democratic Party in the age of Obama, and, of course, the fact that the Republican Parry’s stance on social issues, as well as debacles like 2012’s comments by various candidates about abortion and rape and the comments of many on the right about birth control issues, have turned women off to the party as a whole. That doesn’t mean that Republicans can’t do well among women, of course. Ronald Reagan won the women’s vote quite handily in his 1984 landslide, for example, and  George H.W. Bush won it narrowly in his smaller 1988 landslide. More recently, just last year Chris Christie won the women’s  vote in deep blue New Jersey by twelve points. In 2010, Republicans won women by a narrow 1% on the way to taking control of the House. Now, as we head into a midterm that could hand control of the Senate, President Obama’s problems with women, which seem to have come out of nowhere, threaten to hurt his party:

Female voters powered President Barack Obama’s victory over Mitt Romney in 2012, as Democrats leaned heavily on social issues to rally single women and suburban moms to the polls.

But with two weeks until Election Day, the president’s diminished standing with women is quickly becoming one of the biggest liabilities facing Democrats as they struggle to hang onto the Senate majority.

In battleground states across the country, Obama is underwater with female voters — especially women unaffiliated with a political party — and it’s making it harder for Democrats to take advantage of the gender gap, according to public polling and Democratic strategists.

Already Democrats are taking a beating from men, who back Republicans over Democrats by double digits in most of the key Senate races. But to overcome that deficit, Democrats need to win over female voters by a wider margin in battleground states like Colorado, Iowa, Alaska, North Carolina and New Hampshire. That task that will be the primary focus of Democratic campaigns as they prepare an intensive voter-turnout operation.

First, they must overcome the Obama factor. After defeating Mitt Romney by 11 points among women in 2012, the president has seen his approval rating drop sharply with females, particularly in the battleground states.

In Alaska, for instance, Obama lost soundly in 2008 and 2012. But he’s only gone downhill from there, especially among female voters, only 29 percent of whom give him high marks. Obama’s unpopularity could be having a spillover effect on Sen. Mark Begich (D-Alaska), who is fighting for his political life against Republican Dan Sullivan. In one recent CNN/ORC poll of likely voters, Begich was losing women to Sullivan by 7 points.


According to a Quinnipiac poll this week, Democratic Sen. Mark Udall was trailing by 19 points to his GOP challenger, Rep. Cory Gardner, among male voters. In that poll and a new CNN poll, the Republican was down only 9 points among women. In 2010, when Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet barely beat GOP candidate Ken Buck, the Democrat won female voters by 17 points and lost men by 10, according to exit polls. Most Democrats believe Udall needs a similar advantage to win.

But the president’s sharp decline in Colorado has made life much harder for Udall. The CNN poll showed 60 percent of white women disapproving of Obama’s job performance — and 56 percent of nonwhite women also holding negative views. Just two years ago, Obama outperformed Romney in Colorado, 51-49 percent, among female voters, according to exit polls, as the president carried the state.


In Kentucky, where Obama lost 116 of 120 counties in 2012, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has run about even with female voters, according to several polls, while holding a double-digit advantage among men. In recent Fox News and CNN polls, for instance, McConnell was down just 2 points and 3 points, respectively, among female voters to Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes, helping him maintain an advantage in the closely watched race.

In New Hampshire, Sen. Jeanne Shaheen led Scott Brown by 8 points among female voters, according to a New England College poll, with nearly half of female voters disapproving of Obama’s performance in office. By comparison, Obama won female voters 58-42 percent against Romney two years ago in New Hampshire.

In North Carolina, a recent survey USA poll showed Sen. Kay Hagan up 16 points among female voters and down 12 points among men, a race that remains a dead heat. But in Iowa, where Democrats are trailing narrowly, Republican state Sen. Joni Ernst holds an 18-point advantage among men, while Democratic Rep. Bruce Braley is up 13 points among women, according to a Quinnipiac poll.

In Iowa, much like the other states, Obama is shedding support among women. For instance, 53 percent of women viewed Obama unfavorably, according to a recent Des Moines Register poll, even though Obama won 59 percent of the female vote in 2012.

It’s a problem pollsters say Democrats will have to reckon with.

“He’s not doing as badly [with women] as he is among men, but it’s hardly anything to write home about,” said GOP pollster Whit Ayres. “Which is why many of these Democratic candidates are still struggling.”

Arguably, this loss of the advantage among female voters is a good part of the reason that Democratic candidates for the Senate are struggling this year and Republicans look likely to take control of the Senate with only two weeks to go until Election Day. In Alaska, for example, Dan Sullivan has a comfortable lead over Mark Begich in the RealClearPolitics average. Cory Gardner appears to be pulling ahead of Mark Udall in Colorado, with a 3.0 point lead in the average in that state. After a brief tizzy caused by a poll that appears now to be an outlier, Mitch McConnell appears headed for re-election over Alison Lundergan Grimes. In New Hampshire, there are at least some indications that Scott Brown is closing the gap with Jeanne Shaheen, as is Thom Tillis in North Carolina in his race against Kay Hagan. Finally, Joni Ernst has led in pretty much every poll in Iowa this month and has a 2.5 point lead over Bruce Braley and the Republican candidates in Arkansas and Louisiana also seem to be on track for victory in November.

Now, all of these races may not pan out for the GOP but enough of them seem to be leaning in the Republican direction that, given the minimal amount of time left and the factors that are influencing the race, it seems a fair guess to say that most of them will unless something drastic changes in the next two weeks. One of those factors that is clearly influencing the race is the President’s job approval rating, which remains quite low overall and on specific issues such as the economy, and foreign policy. As the linked article notes, the drop in the President’s job approval applies regardless of gender, and it appears to be impacting the Senate races that will decide who controls the upper house of Congress.  No doubt, with the campaign in crunch mode for the next fourteen days, we will see Democrats try to turn the tide on the women’s vote in the close races noted above. Mark Udall’s focus on abortion, which has also been popping up in races in North Carolina, Louisiana, and Arkansas, is quite obviously aimed at both changing the minds of female voters who may be leaning toward the Republican candidate and mobilizing them to get out and vote. Whether that effort succeeds or fails may end up being the deciding factor in the battle for the Senate.

FILED UNDER: 2014 Election, Congress, Gender Issues, Public Opinion Polls, US Politics, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. PD Shaw says:

    Obama is said to be suffering diminished standing among women, but a lot of the specifics are about women in red states and women not affiliated with either party (i.e. non-Democrats). Doesn’t sound like a “women” problem, just the likely result of dropping poll numbers, that will mostly appear in the marginally affiliated voters (moderate, independent women, but probably also men as well, there were just relatively fewer men to start with).

    Generally though, women tend to be less politically-engaged (spend less time each day reading/thinking about politics, etc.), and probably can be more easily dissuaded from voting by negative politics.

  2. Ben says:

    That article keeps comparing how Obama fared with women against Romney in 2012, versus Obama’s job approval rating among women now. That is comparing apples and rocks. Approval ratings and election results do not always correlate well, and they definitely can’t be directly compared percentage-to-percentage.

  3. @Ben:

    It’s not perfect, no, but the fact that we’re seeing a coorelation between the job approval numbers and the polling numbers for Democratic candidates is telling, in my opinion.

  4. @PD Shaw:

    women tend to be less politically-engaged (spend less time each day reading/thinking about politics, etc.), and probably can be more easily dissuaded from voting by negative politics.

    I’m waiting for the women to come along and comment on that part of your comment

  5. Gustopher says:

    Part of me wants to see the Democrats lose the Senate, just so the “Both sides do it, I’m above it all” crowd will be forced to realize that there is a difference between the parties, and that the Republicans aren’t just pandering to their idiot base on meaningless votes to repeal ObamaCare while continuing business as normal, but that the Republicans have actually been electing their idiot base.

    Having a Democrat in the White House to blunt most of the damage would make this one of the least worst times to have that happen, if it has to happen.

  6. Gustopher says:

    @Doug Mataconis: I think they are busy in the kitchen.

  7. beth says:

    @Doug Mataconis: I was going to but I got easily dissuaded by a negative comment on the other thread. Ooohh politics is mean – it makes my head hurt just thinking about it.

  8. PD Shaw says:

    @Doug Mataconis: I hope not; I heard it on NPR yesterday, so it must be true. Also, see The Gender Gap in Interest in Politics. Many studies on this issue.

  9. Just Me says:

    I think many women are tired of the War on Women crap from the last election. Right now the bad news is piling up and it’s hard to vote abortion and birth control with ISIS, Ebola, immigration, and other crises. I think the democrats found a mantra that worked in 2012 but women just aren’t buying it this cycle. So more are voting for somebody that doesn’t have a D by their name or they aren’t going to bother voting at all.

    As for NH Scott Brown has been picking up support but I think Shaheen is going to win here and I have a hard time being convinced it’s going to be super close.

  10. edmondo says:

    exit polling showed that President Obama won women by 56% to 49%,

    This could explain those trillion dollar budget deficits – especially if we go around and spend 105% of our income.

  11. PD Shaw says:

    @edmondo: See what happens when we don’t require a long-form birth certificate, a passport and proof of property ownership to vote?

    @PD Shaw: More to my point:

    Men are more likely to be motivated to vote by a negative campaign message. Highly negative campaigns saw the “biggest gender differences: an 88% probability of voting for men and just a 77% probability of voting for women.” In contests with the least amount of negative campaigning, “women are slightly higher than men in terms of predicted probability of going to the polls.” There is a further distinction between “civil” versus “uncivil” (“inflammatory, gratuitous, and divisive”) negative messaging. Comparing men’s and women’s reactions along these lines reveals further gender gaps: “Men are disproportionately mobilized by uncivil negativity as compared to women [and] women appear to be slightly more likely than men to vote after viewing civil negative messages.” After viewing uncivil negative ads, only 9% of men said they would definitely not vote, while 21% of women said they would. not.

    A Negativity Gap.

  12. al-Ameda says:

    I think this is one of those “compared to what” situations. How many women are going to vote Republican because Obama has diminished standing among women? Not many.

    The Republican “War on Women” is not a fictitious creation of the media. Republicans have variously, in many prominent comments and public statements indicated that they do not generally support a woman’s right to control her reproductive health choices. Certainly this is true among a younger and young middle-aged demographic, not quite as true among older women.

    I seriously doubt that local or statewide elections will be influenced by Obama’s diminished standing among women. Turnout is always a problem in the mid-terms, and not just among the dissatisfied.

  13. Gustopher says:


    How many women are going to vote Republican because Obama has diminished standing among women? Not many.

    But, how many aren’t going to vote at all? Women are a fickle bunch, and if they feel that they haven’t gotten what they wanted, they will be less willing to jump through hoops to continue not getting what they wanted. (just like men, actually)

    Turnout is, I would expect, more of a problem among the dissatisfied than the satisfied. (although, really, ladies, he got you two new Supreme Court justices, AND health care reform AND a never ending drone war. Maybe you’re just not being reasonable. What? Chicks don’t like never ending drone wars?)

  14. Tyrell says:

    @beth: It seems to me that most women that I have known, talked to, or worked with have little or no interest in politics and consider it a “men’s” club complete with bourbon, poker games, and the inevitable smoke filled rooms, cigars if you please, Mr. Clinton. When voting I have noticed most couples will usually vote with the wives dragging their husbands into the booth to show them who to vote for. I actually saw more interest from women in politics in the ’70’s and ’80’s; probably a result of the influence of Gloria Steinem (hot!). I have talked to some women on occasion of their feelings about Mrs. Clinton as president. Most were very unfavorable.
    The women’s lib movement brought some curious behavior. Such as some women were offended if you opened the car door for them, but boy, when the waitress brought the check, they invariably found the powder room faster than an Alabama running back on a Saturday night.
    Some women want the same pay as a man gets. That’s fine. But they don’t want the heavy lifting and outside work that goes with it. Not cool.

  15. beth says:

    @Tyrell: Jeez, go look up the word mysogynist. Then go look in the mirror. Then go jump in a lake.

  16. Tyrell says:

    @beth: I respectfully take the strongest exception. I was raised to put women first. Open the doors, give up my seat, carry their bags, change their flat tire. I was raised to compliment women. There was a time when women expected and appreciated that type of regard. I have worked for women and showed them the same respect as men employers.

  17. Paul Hooson says:

    In Oregon, the Republican candidate for the senate made a big issue out of gender equality on wages to appeal to women, but then when pressed where she stood on raising the minimum wage, she seemed to indicate that she was opposed. Further, this highly paid doctor also ran ads meant to appeal to the middle class, while also opposing The Affordable Care Act because it caps some of the charges for surgeries and other procedures, as well as supporting the big chemical and oil industry of the Koch brothers. – There you go, working women have to decide whether holding their wages down and allowing an advocate for big oil and big chemical industry interests really represents their own working class interests…

    Further, a new ad meant to appeal to women to vote Republican opposes the effort of Bill Gates, the Chamber Of Commerce and educational organizations who support minimum standards in education known as Common Core. Who in heck opposes improvements in education?

    What are Republicans even bringing to the table to attract votes? Democrats may be disappointing, but they fight for decent wages, better education and oppose too many give-aways to big oil companies….

  18. Gustopher says:

    @Paul Hooson:

    …minimum standards in education known as Common Core. Who in heck opposes improvements in education?

    Actually, a lot of people object to Common Core, in part because it changes the requirements for math proficiency in ways that make it very hard parents to help their children. Do you know four different ways to do subtraction?

    Also, it has a lot of standardized testing at very early grade levels. There are questions about whether that is appropriate, whether it leads to “teaching to the test” rather than teaching basic concepts, and whether there are too many of these tests.

    I know reasonable, well educated parents on both sides.

  19. grumpy realist says:

    @Tyrell: You would have done better teaching women how to change their own flat tires. And how to jumpstart a car. I’ve done both, taught by men who thought it was more important that I knew how to do it rather than do all the work for me.

    And I didn’t even have little white gloves on and high heels. Bring on the fainting couch and clutch your pearls.