The problem the Republican Party has with women is deep and costly. Their attacks on women's rights all add up to a widely perceived Republican War on Women that significantly influenced the outcome of the election by creating impactful gender gaps in many key races.
President Barack Obama won reelection with 55 percent of women's votes and 45 percent of men's votes for a decisive and historic 10 percent gender gap, according to the exit polls. This is the second largest gender gap in presidential voting recorded by the CNN exit polls, according to the Center for American Women and Politics. The largest was in 1996 for Bill Clinton (PDF). If only men had voted, Mitt Romney would have won the presidency 52 percent to 44 percent.
Very large gender gaps determined the outcome of many individual Senate races and also elected the Senate Democratic majority itself. Some of the key Senate races where the gender gap made an impact are:
- Chris Murphy (D-CT) defeated Linda McMahon (R), despite her spending tens of million of dollars with an 11 percent gender gap, with 60 percent of women's votes to 49 percent of men's votes;
- Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) won with a 12 percent gender gap, with 59 percent of women's votes and only 47 percent of men's votes;
- Martin Heinrich (D-NM) won with a 6 percent gender gap, with 54 percent of women's votes and 48 percent of men's votes;
- Sherrod Brown (D-OH) won with an 8 percent gender gap, with 56 percent of women's votes and 48 percent of men's votes;
- Bob Casey (D-PA) won with a 9 percent gender gap, with 58 percent of women's votes and 49 percent of men's votes; and
- Tim Kaine (D-VA) won with a 7 percent gender gap, with 56 percent of women's votes and 49 percent of men's votes.
The Romney/Ryan ticket's extreme views on women's issues built the gender gap. The Republican ticket was blatantly against abortion and family planning access and specifically targeted Planned Parenthood. An obvious lack of support for equal pay and the Ryan budget, which voucherized Medicare, also alienated women.
Romney and Ryan had plenty of help from members of their party in creating the gender gap. Republicans in Congress have time and time again fought against women's rights and, to top it off, Republican Senatorial Candidates openly demeaned women when they made ignorant and offensive comments regarding rape.
Moreover, in 2011 and 2012, Republican-controlled state legislatures introduced over 1100 legislative measures aimed at restricting women's reproductive rights. By the Guttmacher Institute's count, over 135 of these state measures became law in 2011. Of these, 92 were abortion restrictions in 24 states. The rest slashed family planning funding or created unnecessary and debilitating regulations targeting women's health clinics that provide family planning and/or abortion services, especially Planned Parenthood. By the summer of 2012 another 35 state-level measures attacking reproductive rights were passed.
At the federal level, Republicans in Congress have repeatedly fought against women's rights by attempting to restrict access to abortion and birth control, opposing equal pay legislation, advocating for privatization of Medicare, attempting to slash Medicaid funding and attempting to weaken the Violence Against Women Act by cutting back protections for students, immigrant women and Native American women.
In the past two sessions, the Republican-controlled House has repeatedly passed hostile and outrageous abortion rights legislation that would have eliminated all family planning funding and specifically targeted Planned Parenthood. The most outrageous of this legislation was the so-called "Let Her Die" bill. This legislation aimed to allow hospitals that "morally object" to deny a woman an abortion even if her life is at risk -- even if she is hemorrhaging in an emergency room from a ruptured ectopic pregnancy.
In this atmosphere, no wonder two Senate seats were lost on outrageous rape statements made by candidates. In fact, one of these candidates led the fight for an anti-abortion law with no-rape exception with his Republican colleagues, including Paul Ryan.
The Republican War on Women is not just a slogan. Unless a reset button is pushed by the Republican Party, the gender gap will continue to grow and Republican candidates will continue to pay the cost.