As the relatively conservative party, Republicans are going to do better among men than among women.

Gender Gap Confusion

Ramesh Ponnuru is a Bloomberg View columnist. He is a senior editor of National Review and the author of “The Party of Death: The Democrats, the Media, the Courts, and the Disregard for Human Life.”
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Women are slightly more liberal than men. So long as they remain the relatively conservative party, Republicans are going to do better among men than among women. They need not worry about this gender gap so long as they improve their total. To win presidential elections they need to do better among men and women, but there is no reason to think that doing that requires addressing a distinctive problem they have with women.

I realize I am distinctly in the minority in taking this view, and I'm not surprised that an earlier iteration of it has drawn criticism. The criticism, though, illustrates how little solid evidence there is for the conventional wisdom about the gender gap.

Lloyd Green writes in the Daily Beast that "Ponnuru . . . attempts to glibly gloss over the cultural fault lines that shape our politics." (I'd prefer to say that I succeed in being glib; it's my main talent.) Evangelical Christians have great influence among Republicans, he points out, and they rub single women the wrong way. Green presents no evidence, though, that single women, on average, react any more negatively toward evangelical Christians than single men do. The Pew Research Center this summer found that women are very slightly warmer toward evangelicals than men. Other surveys have shown similar results.

Green suggests that Republicans could do better among women if they avoided "candidates who aren't ready for prime time" and who appear to be "living in another century": Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock get name-checked. Better yet, Republicans could run female candidates, as they are doing in Senate races in West Virginia and Iowa.

I'm all for running good candidates and female candidates. But neither step is going to do much to address the gender gap. Let's calculate Republicans' gender gap as the percentage of men who vote for them minus the percentage of women who do. In 2010, Sharron Angle had the same gender gap as Rob Portman (7 points), Carly Fiorina had the same one as Ron Johnson (8), and Kelly Ayotte had the same one as Pat Toomey (10). Choosing female nominees doesn't seem to alter the fact that the Republican Party is more attractive to men than women.

Choosing nominees who make major gaffes, even over abortion, doesn't seem to have much effect either. Mourdock's gap was 6 points and Akin's was 7. Their comments hurt them among men and women alike.

Green's advice is sound, and Republicans should follow it. It just won't help Republicans disproportionately among women. Which is fine, because that's not what they need.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Bloomberg View's editorial board or Bloomberg LP, its owners and investors.

To contact the author on this story:
Ramesh Ponnuru at rponnuru@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor on this story:
Max Berley at mberley@bloomberg.net