By Mary Kate Cary, Thomas Jefferson Street Blog
This just in from the Gallup Poll: the number of women identifying themselves as Republicans over the last decade has been on a continuous decline, and the first quarter of 2009 is no different:
When you add in women who identify themselves as independents who "lean democratic," Democrats enjoy a 22-point advantage over Republicans. The 2009 first-quarter split between Democrats and left-leaning independents versus Republicans and right-leaning independents is now at a whopping 57 percent to 35 percent nationally, which is the largest gap Gallup has measured in this decade.
I live less than a mile from the city line of Washington, D.C., which according to a state-by-state analysis of party I.D. Gallup conducted in January 2009, is the most Democratic "state" in the Union, coming in at 84 percent Democratic. So the gap between Republican and Democratic women in my hometown must be the biggest gap of all.
According to the numbers, over the last decade, Washington, D.C., has become perhaps the loneliest outpost of female Republicans in the nation. But it's possible that there are more Republican women here than the numbers are showing, due to the fact that these women are reluctant to identify themselves publicly. (I'm not talking about the political appointees who come and go every four years—I'm referring to the "natives" who live here and may not even be involved in politics.)
There is a small network of local Republican women here, and they all know each other. In a Darwinian, survival-of-the-fittest way, they quietly E-mail each other news stories and meet for coffee, talking politics only in hushed tones for fear of some sort of public confrontation in front of their embarrassed children. The neighborhoods here are full of yard signs for Democratic candidates and causes, and bumper stickers like the one that shows a red-state map of the United States and the words: "I see stupid people."
These women are quiet about the fact that they are Republicans, for a number of reasons.
First, there's social pressure. Time after time these women go to Washington, D.C., gatherings and find themselves vastly outnumbered and in the midst of angry conversations about how awful Republicans are. So to keep the peace, they try to steer the conversation away from politics. It's easier for everybody. One woman I know sat through an anti-Bush lecture by a guest at the dinner table, only to be asked as an afterthought what her political leanings were. When she finally said she was a Republican, the guest said, "But that's impossible! I thought you were so reasonable. I can't believe you would you be a Republican." As if "reasonable Republican woman" is an oxymoron.
Second, there's the embarrassment factor. As some conservatives on talk radio and the blogosphere get more extreme rhetorically, these women don't want to be associated with that. No woman wants to look mean or intolerant, or for that matter, wacky.
Third, there's a pragmatic aspect to it. There are women I know who are fully committed to Republican principles, but have registered as Democrats in order to have a vote in the only-game-in-town Democratic primary for local elections. They voted for Bush but didn't necessarily support McCain this time, for a variety of reasons. They voted Democratic last fall and may even have registered Democratic, but they're Republicans. They want to have a voice in local politics and if they register Republican, they won't.
The bottom line is that despite their strong beliefs in limited government, free markets and a strong defense, very few of these women feel comfortable identifying themselves as Republicans and that needs to change—quickly—or the numbers will continue to get worse.
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