Romney’s Women Split: Single vs. Married

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One of the meta-themes of the 2012 campaign, or at least the early stages of it, has been Mitt Romney’s problem reaching women voters. In many polls, the gender gap looks more like a gender chasm for the GOP’s presumptive presidential nominee.

The latest Wall Street Journal/NBC survey seems to be just the latest bit of evidence of Mr. Romney’s “woman problem” – it shows a 12-point deficit with the female voters in a head-to-head matchup with President Barack Obama. But look closer and a different divide emerges, a more complicated one around marriage.

In that same poll Mr. Romney wins with married voters, even married women – he carries them by 3 percentage points 49% to 46%. He does better with married men, winning them by 13 percentage points, 52% to 39%.

But when the lens shifts to unmarried voters, the score changes dramatically. Mr. Romney trails Mr. Obama by an astounding 36 percentage points among women who aren’t married – 28% to 64% respectively. And it doesn’t get much better for the Romney team if you shift to look at men. He trails the president among men who aren’t married by some 23 percentage points – 33% for Mr. Romney versus 56% for Mr. Obama.

How does one explain a divide like that? Is Mr. Romney’s strong family-man image, underscored by his Mormon faith and his five sons, a turn-off for the spouse-less? Did the discussion of birth control in the GOP nominating battle have a special resonance with singles?

It’s the kind of yawning gap that makes one wonder, but there are some important secondary factors to consider. There are positives to being single – independence and freedom – but there are some negatives as well and they tend to be critical in how people see politics.

For the rest of this week's Politics Counts column, please visit the Wall Street Journal's Web site.

The map below show the differences by county in the percentage of people who reported they were married, according to the Census Bureau in 2010. Use the bar on the left side of the map to zoom.