Politics Counts: How Women Voters Line Up

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The story of Mitt Romney’s gender gap issues are well-known to most by now. Since he locked down the Republican nomination this spring, the former Massachusetts governor’s struggles with winning women voters have been chronicled in a slew of polls showing he has nearly a double-digit deficit with them.

But as we have noted in this space, it’s not really as easy as saying that Mr. Romney has a “women problem.” Women represent more than half of the U.S. population and more than half of the electorate. They are hard to characterize as a single voting bloc.

When you look at the gender gap through the filter of Patchwork Nation’s breakdown of 12 different kinds of counties, it dissolves – or at least grows murkier.

In counties where Mr. Romney does well overall, he wins the “women’s vote” – by large margins in some places. In places where he generally struggles, he loses among women badly. But he also has a consistent problem with one particular group that will likely be important in November, women in suburban counties.

The numbers for the women vote in the communities vary widely. Mr. Romney leads President Barack Obama among women in the socially conservative Evangelical Epicenter counties by some 12 points – 52% – 38%. He loses women narrowly in the small-town Service Worker counties – 45% to 47% for Mr. Obama. He takes a beating in the Campus and Career counties, mostly around college campuses – 38% to 55% for Mr. Obama.

And in some places the Obama-Romney gender splits are almost mirror images. For instance, in Military Bastion counties, generally located around military installations, Mr. Romney beats Mr. Obama among men – 53% to 37% – but he loses among women – 37% to 56%.

There are a variety of reasons for those differences. Women in Evangelical Epicenter communities tend to be older and more conservative than women as a group. Women in Campus and Careers counties tend to be younger and more liberal. And in Military Bastion counties the wide variance in opinion may come from differences in opinion on military policy from soldiers who fight and veterans (who are still mostly men) and the families who stay home (who are still mostly led by women).

But a huge focus for the Romney campaign right now is likely women in the wealthy suburban counties Patchwork Nation calls the Monied Burbs. In the Burbs, Mr. Romney is tied with Mr. Obama among men, at 46% each. But he trails with women by 10 percentage points – 41% to 51%. And that number has special meaning because a lot of people live in the Monied Burbs, some 70 million people, and because those counties make up large parts of key states for 2012 – like Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Virginia. (The counties are in beige on the map below.) For the rest of this Politics Counts column, please visit the Wall Street Journal's website.