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Is the Gender Gap Killing Santorum?

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There’s a lot of speculation that Santorum’s emphasis on crackpot anti-contraception positions hurt him greatly among women, perhaps costing him the Michigan primary. The evidence for this is actually more mixed than you might expect. In the Michigan exit polls, Romney’s margin with women was 4 points higher than Santorum’s; consistent with the theory but basically within the margin of error for a typical exit poll, so it’s not really clear evidence of a substantial gender gap. In Arizona, however, Romney did three points better among men than women…and Santorum did six points better among women than men. So, on balance, the gender gap in the two primaries actually favored Santorum.

Of course, this doesn’t necessarily mean that the conventional wisdom is wrong. One explanation for this is that the Arizona race was essentially uncontested, with little advertising, so Santroum starts with an edge among women but the more they find out about his views the less they like him. I think this is indeed part of the story. It is important to remember, however, how many conservative women find Rush Limbaugh’s worldview perfectly congenial. Santorum’s vies will obviously be unpopular among women as a whole, but women who vote in Republican primaries won’t necessarily be as hostile.

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