Ever since the abortion debate burst on the American political scene in the wake of the Roe v. Wade decision by the U.S. Supreme Court, women have voted more Democratic than men.
Unmarried women typically back Democratic candidates — attracted by pro-choice positions — by between 10 and 20 points in each election.
But now the trend has stopped.
In one of the most important findings in the post-election polls, the McLaughlin and Associates polling firm has found that men and women both voted for Republican candidates in the 2010 midterm elections.
Pollster John McLaughlin noted that "The Republican candidates for Congress had a 12-point advantage among men [53-41] and a 7-point advantage among women [50-43]." This finding is historic.
The Republicans won married women by 57-38, suburban women by 55-38, and independent women by 51-40. Democrats maintained reduced margins among single women, poor women, and minority group women.
While national surveys have indicated a 10-point shift to pro-life as opposed to pro-choice positions over the past 20 years, so dramatic a reversal from 2008 (when Obama carried women by huge margins) cannot be attributed to an attitudinal change on the abortion issue.
Rather, it indicates that the issue has diminished in saliency, particularly as economic conditions have worsened and concerns about the impact of Obama's legislation on healthcare quality have grown.
In an earlier column, we indicated that the ascendancy of the tea party movement, with its focus on economic, fiscal, tax and health policy issues, has increasingly eclipsed the Christian right as the biggest grass-roots organization on the right.
As the Republican Party becomes more secular, apparently women are feeling freer to vote for it.
Of lesser note, but still interesting, are the Republican gains among both African-Americans and Latinos.
For decades, ever since 1964 when things turned, Republican candidates have counted themselves fortunate if they scored in double digits among black voters. But, in the 2010 election, polling by the Zogby organization found Republicans winning more than 20 percent of the black vote, holding Democrats to a mere 3-to-1 win as opposed to the more usual 8-to-1 or 9-to-1 victories of recent years.
Among Latinos, Republicans also made some gains. After losing Hispanics by only 10 points in the 2004 contest of Bush versus Kerry, and suffering a 45 point loss in 2008, the Republican candidates for Congress in 2010 lost the Latino vote by 20 points.
The better GOP showing, of course, has a lot to do with the composition of the black and Hispanic vote. In an off-year election, the better educated and higher income members of both voter blocks are more inclined to participate and down-scale voters are more likely to stay home.
But the reversal among both groups may reflect the increasing frustration of both groups with Obama's failure to deliver on his economic promises. That blacks voted more Republican in 2010 with an African-American in office than they did in 2006 is remarkable.
Among Latinos, the Zogby findings validate the results of a Pew Research survey conducted in October, 2010 that found that Latinos were more concerned about jobs, education, and healthcare than about immigration.
Asked to rate the importance of each issue, 58 percent of Hispanic voters said education very important and 57 percent felt that way about jobs and the economy. A full 51 percent gave that rating to healthcare, but only 31 percent said immigration was "very important." Then, 29 percent said the environment was.
The only issue blocking Latinos from embracing the Republican Party is its anti-immigration position and the lingering doubts it engenders about the party's attitude toward Hispanics in general. But the election of Republican Cuban-American Marco Rubio as senator from Florida may assuage these doubts. In any case, on the issues that matter most to Latinos — education, jobs and healthcare, many apparently felt strongly enough to switch to the GOP.
© Dick Morris & Eileen McGann