Did White Gender Gap Really Help Obama?

It's a myth that white women propelled him to victory. Here's who really made the difference.


(The Root) -- White women were so turned off by the GOP's stance on rape and their corporeal rights that they voted to re-elect the first African-American president, according to a popular myth emerging about the recent elections.

Smelling the roses of this fresh liberation, New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd declared "white male patriarchy" in a "delusional death spiral" because it had made "little effort not to alienate women." The "largest gender gap in the history of the Gallup poll," Dowd declared, had restricted Mitt Romney to reign symbolically as "the president of white male America."

No such gender divide exists among white voters.

White women, in fact, were even less supportive of President Obama than they were in '08, when voting against him 53 percent to 46 percent. This time, with a GOP vice presidential running mate opposing all abortions, white women doubled down and voted against Obama 56 percent to 42 percent, a gap of 14 points!

In addition to wolf-eyed Paul Ryan, the Republicans fielded one Rep. Todd Akin of Missouri, a Senate candidate who opposed not only abortions but also science by declaring: "If it's a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down." And should such a rape somehow produce a pregnancy, another GOP Senate candidate, one Richard Mourdock, declared, "it is something God intended."

Both local Republicans lost -- Akin to a woman, Sen. Claire McCaskill, who was re-elected. And with three additional women bringing the total number of women in the U.S. Senate to 20, and a new high of 81 in the House, it could be argued that white women flexed their electoral muscles against local white male patriarchy this year.

But why exactly was this sentiment extended to cover the presidential race when the data showed the direct opposite?

The answer resides within the curious American habit of identifying whites as the standard, the generic brand against which others are measured with their specific group labels. Thus, it's "women and minorities," for example, as if Hispanics and blacks don't officially have women. At the height of the feminist movement years ago, New York magazine asked Jane Pauley if she resented Bryant Gumbel's higher ranking as the primary host of the Today show. Typical of this kind of thinking, she replied: "They made a black man host of this program, for God's sake! They didn't give it to a man."

Similarly, when exit polls showed a gap of at least 11 points between "women and men" supporting Obama-Biden, common usage of media pundits credited white women with this overall opposition to the Romney-Ryan ticket. Instead, the gaping margin was created by black women (96 percent for Obama), Latinas (76 percent) and Asian women (over 73 percent).

The media misrepresentations obscure important race, age and gender trends emerging in America. Consequently, white women appear to have it both ways: Their assumed coalition with Obama supporters masks a primary move to advance separate interests for their group, i.e., more white women in Congress and, perhaps by 2016, in the White House.