Rick Santorum Is Picking Up Support Among Women

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Photo: Tom Pennington/2012 Getty Images

Over the past several weeks, Rick Santorum has established himself as the GOP field's preeminent sexual moralizer: In addition to his well-documented opposition to gay rights, he has made his opposition to abortion, prenatal testing, and, most controversially, birth control front and center in his presidential campaign. It's made him public enemy No. 1 on the left, especially since Santorum's rise in the polls has coincided with a number of national controversies over reproductive rights. For many women, the last month has made them feel as if their most basic reproductive rights are under attack. Santorum seems to embody the threat in its most radical version. His positions are extreme, even within his own party: while abortion remains a sharply divisive issue, contraception isn't. So is Santorum unpopular among the ladies? The opposite is actually true: He's picking up support among GOP women:

The Post-ABC poll, conducted on the heels of a week of scrutiny of Santorum’s conservative views on a variety of women’s health issues, shows that his popularity among GOP women has moved up 13 points since January, with the biggest bump in the past week, so that 57 percent hold a favorable view. Santorum is now within reach of Romney on that score: Sixty-one percent of Republican women view Romney favorably. Romney has higher negative ratings among GOP women than Santorum does — 28 percent to 18 percent — and those negative ratings of Romney have grown over time.

He's also less unpopular among Democratic and independent women than either Newt Gingrich or Mitt Romney. Santorum is also less well-known among Dems and independent women than his rivals, so perhaps that partially explains why his recent, amped-up rhetoric hasn't cost him popularity points there.

As for Republican women, the new poll numbers suggest that some are attracted to the zeal of Santorum's pro-life platform, even with its inclusion of anti-contraception rhetoric, and that more pro-life women see those things as part of the consistent ethic of life than many analysts and consultants might have suspected. It makes a certain kind of sense that these women aren't moderates on those issues. Women who are both committed Republicans and committed pro-lifers are already in the minority among their gender; feeling like an oppressed minority can help build fervor and heighten identification with that group and those views.

Or maybe they're just not as interested in that stuff right now: The Washington Post, which conducted the polls, theorizes that women are more interested in Santorum's "ability to relate to the daily struggles of the middle class," than his views on reproductive rights — and in a majority of households, women are making the financial decisions these days. Santorum doesn't just talk about family planning; he talks about the practice and daily problems of actually having a family, and perhaps that's more important for Republican voters right now.