Wednesday, March 7, 2012

In “War on Women,” Conservatives Are Losing

Exit polls from primary elections yesterday suggest that women are worried about losing status in general, and health coverage in particular, under Republicans.

There is some irony in the fact that coverage for birth control, an issue forced onto the agenda by Senate Republicans, overshadowed the Super Tuesday ballots yesterday. In February Senate Republicans voted essentially to remove all birth control from employer health insurance plans. Some observers thought the implications of the amendment that Republicans pushed to a floor vote, but failed to carry, could go farther than that. It was described, with little exaggeration, as a Republican “war on women.” No one imagines that Republicans could take away women’s access to unemployment compensation, for example, yet recent moves give the impression that they would find ways to chip away at it.

That would explain why exit polls show women voting in larger numbers than men in the Republican primaries yesterday, and voting with their pocketbooks, as the political expression puts it. In Ohio, according to one exit poll, women who have jobs voted more than two to one on economic issues, and by a wide margin supported candidates seen as less likely to take away their health coverage.

This poses a problem for Republicans, of course. If health coverage and respect for women continue to be political issues, it will rarely favor Republican candidates in the general election. Yet the culture-war contingent of the Republican base will hardly agree to take the “war on women” off the agenda. Republicans cannot afford to cut loose the extremists among their supporters, but until they do, the results among mainstream voters are likely to continue to be ugly.