President Obama is suddenly upset about the alleged wage gap between men and women, but he's not responding to a national economic crisis. Instead, he is attempting to revive the "war on women" theme that, according to Washington wisdom, helped carry Democrats to victory in 2012 and might do again in 2014. If this narrative were true, the White House could spend the year demonizing Republicans as women-hating creeps, driving women to the polls in November and helping the party hold the Senate.
Editorial board member Joe Rago on how Democrats are firing up their political base in advance of November's mid-term elections. Photo credit: Getty Images.
But the conventional analysis isn't accurate. National exit polls from 2012 show scant success for the war-on-women ploy, and there's no reason to think trotting it out again will help Democrats in the midterms.
True enough, Mr. Obama won the overall female vote by 11 points in 2012—55% to 44%—but that's hardly remarkable for a Democratic presidential candidate. Al Gore fared the same in 2000, prevailing among women by an identical 11-point advantage. Mr. Obama did better with women in 2008, beating John McCain by 56% to 43%. He enjoyed that advantage even though his first campaign never emphasized "women's issues" and despite the presence of a woman— Sarah Palin —on the Republican ticket.
A closer look at the numbers reveals that Mr. Obama's success with the ladies actually stemmed from his well-known appeal to minority voters. In 2012, 72% of all women voters identified themselves as "white." This subset preferred Mitt Romney by a crushing 14-point advantage, 56% to 42%. Though Democrats ratcheted up the women's rhetoric in the run-up to Election Day, the party did poorly among the white women it sought to influence: The Republican advantage in this crucial segment of the electorate doubled to 14 points in 2012 from seven points in 2008. In the race against Mr. Romney, Obama carried the overall female vote—and with it the election—based solely on his success with the 28% of women voters who identified as nonwhite. He carried 76% of Latina women and a startling 96% of black women.
The same discrepancy exists when considering marital status. In 2012, nearly 60% of female voters were married, and they preferred Mr. Romney by six points, 53% to 46%. Black and Latina women, on the other hand, are disproportionately represented among unmarried female voters, and they favored Mr. Obama by more than 2-to-1, 67% to 31%.
A similar pattern emerges among young voters, suggesting the president's popularity among millennials also came from racial minorities, not any special resonance with young people. While nonwhites compose 28% of the electorate-at-large, they make up 42% of voters ages 18-29. Mr. Obama won these young voters handily—60% to 37%. He lost young white voters by seven points, 51% to 44%.
The numbers expose the common fiction that Mr. Obama soared to re-election by building a broad coalition of females, young people and voters of color. That winning coalition actually consisted of nonwhite females and nonwhite young people, along with nonwhite males and nonwhites over age 30.
Some on the left may argue that these figures show white voters rejected Mr. Obama simply because they are senseless racists. But the same case could be made in reverse. The numbers might also suggest that racial solidarity led nonwhite voters to support the president again despite manifold failures in his first term.
Regardless, the unassailable conclusion is that the campaign alleging a Republican "War on Women" didn't much work. It failed to win white women for the president and drew its results exclusively from women of color who would have supported him in any event. They didn't need Sandra Fluke's free birth-control demands or Mr. Romney's clumsy "binders full of women" remark to push them into the Obama camp. Nervous Republicans should be reassured that even if their Democratic rivals double down on this nasty, silly strategy, it achieved little-to-nothing in 2012.
Rather than fretting over liberal attempts to woo female voters, Republicans must concentrate on the one challenge that, more than any other, will determine the fate of conservative candidates in 2014 and beyond: competing among minorities. With the race factor removed, the vaunted "gender gap" largely disappears, meaning the GOP must craft more competitive, credible and effective appeals to nonwhite voters—black, Latino and Asian. This may not prove a panacea for all Republican problems, but the numbers suggest that it could very well come close.