What We Should Really Make of the Obama-Romney 'Gender Gap'

It's not healthy to elect presidents who win because they have come out ahead in a mathematical equation that divides the country along gender and racial lines.

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An ABC poll has President Obama ahead of Mitt Romney, 57-38 percent, among women. A recent Fox poll has the former Massachusetts governor benefiting as well from the gender gap, leading among male voters by a 52-38 percent margin. And another Fox poll shows Romney doing abysmally among Latinos, losing the demographic to Obama by a 70-14 percent margin.

The polls are both instructive and meaningless. They indeed show potential problems the candidates might have going into the fall elections, and force the candidates to pay attention to issues they otherwise might not prioritize. The surveys are also misleading, since those three groups especially do not vote as a block. Women, in particular, tend to vote Democratic anyway, but if they were truly a monolithic group, we'd only elect Democrats. And Latinos are a diverse group unto themselves, with Cuban-Americans, Mexican-Americans, Puerto Ricans, and others with vastly different views on everything from immigration policy to Puerto Rican statehood. And, of course, national polls are almost irrelevant in trying to figure out who will win in November, since the presidential race comes down to perhaps 10 battleground states.

[See a collection of political cartoons on the 2012 campaign.]

Still, there is something disturbing about the polling, because it suggests a political polarization among demographic groups not themselves defined by politics. It would be no surprise if, say, liberals tended to favor Obama over Romney, and conservatives, the reverse. But the yawning gender gap—for both female and male voters—is troubling. So is the wide divide among Latino voters.

Women don't all think alike, so why would they be favoring Obama so heavily? The same goes for men and Latinos. Hispanics aren't driven only by immigration issues, and even that single issue isn't so simple. Some Latinos who arrived here legally don't like the idea of loosening rules for people who haven't been following the rules already.

[Robert Schlesinger: The Primaries Hurt Mitt Romney With Women and Hispanics]

Each of these demographic groups contains voters across the ideological and political spectrum, and that's healthy. What's not healthy is electing presidents who win because they have come out ahead in a mathematical equation that divides the country along gender and racial lines. How can a president lead if he (or, someday, she) is seen as the president of one or the other gender, or one or more ethnic and racial groups?

We've endured a lot of upheaval because of deep divides along ideological lines. But at least those fights are about ideas. Battles along gender and racial lines indicate far more troubling divides.

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