Both U.S. President Barack Obama and his likely Republican opponent in November, former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, are focusing heavily on women voters, since women make up 53 percent of the U.S. electorate. Recent public opinion surveys show Obama with a two-digit advantage over Romney among women voters, but the general election campaign is just getting started.
The Republican primary race had an unexpected focus on abortion, access to birth control and other social issues that directly affect women. Recent opinion polls show the intense debate over those social issues may have hurt Romney with women voters, with some surveys showing Romney trailing Obama among women by up to 20 percentage points. Campaigning this week in Connecticut, Romney rejected charges made by Democrats that Republicans are waging a war on women.
"I was disappointed in listening to the president as he said, 'Republicans are waging a war on women.' The real war on women is being waged by the president's failed economic policies," said Romney.
Romney also received an unintended boost from a Democratic strategist and TV political commentator, Hilary Rosen. During an interview on CNN, Rosen said that Romney's wife, Ann Romney, a mother of five, had "never worked a day in her life." The Romney campaign seized on the moment amid a firestorm of criticism over the remark. Obama quickly reacted, telling an Iowa television station, "there is no tougher job than being a mom."
White House spokesman Jay Carney defended what he called the president's strong record of standing up for equal pay for women and social welfare programs supported by many women.
"It begins with the signing of the president's Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act. It continues with the emphasis on the need to put teachers back in the classroom. It continues with a variety of programs, including our opposition to the Ryan Republican budget and its dramatic cuts - Medicare for example," said Carney.
Political analyst Larry Sabato of the University of Virginia said that there has been a gender gap in American politics for decades.
"Women disproportionately lean to Democratic Party candidates, and men disproportionately lean to Republican Party candidates. The size of the gender gap varies from year to year depending on the circumstances. The one in 2008 was enormous, and I would bet a large sum of money that this year's won't be anything close to it."
Sabato said that he expects the 2012 presidential election to be much closer than the 2008 election was, and that the gap among women and male voters for Democratic and Republican candidates would likely not be as large as it was four years ago.