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.

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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.

This is not to say that subgroups of white women did not support the Obama-Biden ticket. Indeed, it was younger, single, white women, at about 56 percent, who joined overall African Americans, Latinos and Asians in rejecting Romney-Ryan. Their numbers, however, did not offset the vast majority of older white women, who voted with their husbands, brothers and cousins in supporting the allegedly “women-bashing” Republican Party. “Rape” mattered, but not as much as race.    

In addition to writers such as Maureen Dowd, the generic gender misrepresentation by the media has produced some curious — and overlooked — TV moments. On an MSNBC chat show, a middle-aged white female guest nodded to Nancy Giles, agreeing that women like herself and minorities like the black comedian had boosted the victory of the president. The first half of this conclusion was, of course, an Obama false positive.

Mitt Romney is not just the president of “white male America,” as Maureen Dowd suggests; he is the standard-bearer of that broader America that, by a margin of 59 percent to 39 percent, voted overwhelmingly for his near lily-white GOP.

God help us all.

Les Payne is a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and frequent contributor to The Root.

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