Newt Gingrich certainly has a woman problem, but it’s not clear any pundit has yet identified why. His lopsided results in Florida – Gingrich secured far more votes from men than from women, while the opposite was true for Mitt Romney – has prompted a rash of stories attempting to offer an explanation. CNN’s Jack Cafferty has speculated that growing revelations about the former speaker’s extramarital conduct disgusted women in Florida. But the accusations from the second of his three wives, Marianne, that Gingrich once requested an open marriage, broke shortly before the South Carolina primary, so if anything you’d expect it would have had an outsize effect in the Palmetto State. Instead, the gap between Gringrich’s male and female support grew from four points in South Carolina to eight points in Florida. Exit polls show that that his gender gap has been growing over the course of the primary season.
I’m not persuaded that female voters’ primary concern about Gingrich is his past behavior as a husband, though it can’t help. A poll taken in early January shows that Gingrich’s women troubles preceded Marianne Gingrich’s accusations. In that poll, in theoretical match-ups among general election voters, Barack Obama held an eight-point advantage among women against Romney and a whopping 18-point advantage among women against Gingrich. Gingrich’s weakness with women was even greater that of Ron Paul, whose candidacy revolves around the support of young men.
In the Daily Beast, Gingrich’s pollster, Kellyanne Conway, suggests that Gingrich did poorly among women in Florida because they’re late deciders who were proportionately affected by the barrage of anti-Gingrich advertising unleashed in the Sunshine State. It’s true that women are indeed late deciders, but Conway’s explanation may not tell the whole story.
The fuller context is that Gingrich had a problem with women before Florida, and it appears to be getting worse. Romney, meanwhile, consistently maintains an edge with women. Why? Some might suggest it’s because women voters generally lean more Democratic and Romney is seen as a more moderate candidate than Gingrich. But that doesn’t really hold water -- folks voting in these primaries are generally right-leaning to start with. And if Gingrich’s perceived conservatism alone put off women voters, you’d expect the same to be a true for a conservative candidate like Rick Santorum. Instead, Santorum does better with women than he does with men.
There’s something about Gingrich that acts as a repellant to women, like the electoral opposite of Axe body spray. As the Associated Press put it in analyzing the results of the Florida primary, “Some of the data from Tuesday's exit poll suggested women's votes were influenced more by a personal distaste for Gingrich than by liking Romney.” Anybody have a theory about why women don’t like Gingrich?