Some recent headlines have suggested that President Obama is losing support with women, who have consistently given him higher marks than men right since his 2008 election. “Women no longer are a bright spot for Obama,” the AP commented in a write up of its own poll, which showed that the President was below 50 percent approval with both women and men. But these numbers, from what is the lowest point in the President’s term ratings-wise, are neither different from other surveys, nor are they the whole story.
Women voters have provided the buffer for Obama’s overall approval rating, which has been stubbornly high even though the President faced a number of challenges over the last two and a half years, economic and otherwise. A look back at some major polls show that men as a group have shifted greatly from Obama, from the highs of his early Presidency to below 40 percent. But despite some headlines, women voters have generally stuck with the President and they don’t seem ready to fire him yet.
On the face of it you wouldn’t get that impression from one of the main polling stories of this past week: the fact that female support in the Gallup tracking poll of Obama’s approval hit a weekly low of 41 percent. But here’s why that’s not giving a complete picture.
CNN polling showed that men have held the same negative view of Obama’s job approval for more than a year: he registered the same in August of 2010 and August 2011 — 41 percent. Women have shifted however, from a 54 percent approval versus 44 disapproval to 47 - 51, which is within the poll’s margin of error (4.5 percent). The same trend occurred in Quinnipiac national polls during that time: only 39 percent of men approved of the President’s performance in August 2010 and 2011, with an increase in disapproval from the low to the high fifties. Women have gone from 48 - 43 in 2010 to 44 - 49 now. So the lesson here is that men have really been maintaining the same level of support (or non-support), but women have provided the lift over the last year that kept the President’s approval from dipping below the mid-forties, until last month.
If this is a low point for the President, it hardly means that women voters are leaving him in droves. They may be a bit disappointed at the moment, but there’s plenty of evidence the whole electorate feels that way right now, and about Washington in general. In an email to TPM, Carroll Doherty, Assistant Director of the Pew Research Center for People & the Press, said that in their data women still favor the re-election of the President by wide margins.
In their data from the summer, Pew found a growing gender gap in two areas: general approval and in match-ups of Obama versus a generic Republican. Presidential job approval among men went from 52 percent in May to 39 percent in August, but only moved slightly among women — it moved from 51 percent in May to 48 percent in August. The starkest turnaround however is in the Pew re-election numbers from over the summer:
Men: 46% Obama / 37% Generic Republican
Women: 49% Obama / 38% Generic Republican
Men: 37% Obama / 43% Generic Republican
Women: 45% Obama / 37% Generic Republican
Men: 36% Obama / 47% Generic Republican
Women: 50% Obama / 34% Generic Republican
Yes, there has been a drop in approval among women voters, and maintaining a high level of support will be essential to the President’s campaign. But the real key may be in exactly how much support Obama can will back among male voters, given his current position.
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Kyle is the Editor of TPM Media’s PollTracker. He graduated from Beloit College (WI) and began working in politics before getting an M.A. in magazine journalism from New York University, where he interned at TPM and the website of The New Yorker.