According to the latest poll numbers, the gender gap is on track to hit historic highs in the upcoming presidential election. The split isn't terribly surprising. President Obama, as expected, is holding his own among women voters, and Romney is the favorite among men. But the split is big, perhaps bigger than ever. "If only women voted, President Obama would be on track for a landslide re-election, equaling or exceeding his margin of victory over Senator John McCain in 2008," New York Times polling wizard Nate Silver explains. "If only men voted, Mr. Obama would be biding his time until a crushing defeat at the hands of Mitt Romney, who might win by a margin similar to the one Ronald Reagan realized over Jimmy Carter in 1980."
It gets more interesting when you dig down into the numbers. One poll put the gender gap at a staggering 33 points, whereas the average of those reviewed by Silver put it at a still significant 19 points. If there race were actually gender-specific, the margin of victory for either candidate would also be big: at least nine points. This is almost in line with the split during the Bush-Gore race of 2000, which at 20 points had the biggest gender gap on record since 1972 when exit polls were first conducted. Obama won the election in 2008 beating McCain by 13 points among female voters.
Both candidates are obviously hyperaware of this giant gap, especially Romney who's been fighting hard to win more women voters. Ahead of last week's debate, some said that the night could be Romney's chance to reverse course and start gaining favor among women voters again. Anyone who watched the debate knows that didn't happen, in part due to that thing Romney said about "binders full of women." However, as The Washington Post's Chris Cillizza pointed out in the aftermath of the debate, Romney is still more popular among women than both McCain was in 2008, Bush in 2000 and Bob Dole in 1992.
It gets a little more complicated when you try to pick the issue that's causing the divide, but Silver says all signs point to women's health. It's been a particularly active issue lately, as states enacted 92 new laws restricting abortion in 2011 and Republican-after-Republican has trampled on the issue for the entire election cycle. Obama's done nothing but some out strongly, in favor of a woman's right to choose. "There are millions of women all across the country who rely on Planned Parenthood for not just contraceptive care," he said at the Hofstra debate last week. "They rely on it for mammograms, for cervical-cancer screenings. That's a pocketbook issue for women and families all across the country."
There may be nothing for poor Mitt Romney to do. On one hand, women have always loved Obama. On the other hand, according to a focus group full of women after the last debate, women find Romney to be kind of "douchey." Nevermind what people are saying about Paul Ryan.