The New York Times' editorial page editor Andrew Rosenthal blogs on "Rick Santorum's Woman Problem," asserting flatly "He doesn’t have much respect for modern women, and modern women don’t have much respect for him—a feeling they’re expressing by voting for his rival."
Plenty others have picked up this little factless theme:
- A Boston Herald columnist writes "Rick Santorum has woman problems."
- A Telegraph write claims "Rick Santorum has a women problem."
- Josh Kraushaar at the Atlantic writes of "Rick Santorum's Serious Woman Problem"
- The Christian Science Monitor asks "Is Rick Santorum facing a brewing 'women problem'?"
- U.S. News and World Report's Rebekah Metzler writes "Does Rick Santorum Have a Problem With the Ladies?: After his narrow loss in Michigan, Rick Santorum is trying to find a way to appeal to women voters, and he may not be able to do enough."
There are plenty more examples, and most of these claims revolve around Santorum being pro-life and stating his personal opposition to contraception and his policy opposition to mandatory contraception coverage.
All of these claims are rooted in bad math. For instance, here's the NYT's Andrew Rosenthal:
Polling in Arizona showed that Mitt Romney carried female voters by 17 percentage points. It was closer in the Michigan primary, 5 percentage points, but everything was closer in Michigan.
That last clause gives away the game: Santorum does poorly among women in states where he does poorly among all voters. In Arizona, "Romney carried female voters by 17 percentage points," according to Rosenthal's exit polls, but guess what -- Romney carried all voters by 20 percentage points.
In other words, Santorum did better among women -- by far -- than among men, and this blogger concludes that Santorum has a woman problem. The truth is the opposite.
Above are the Fox News exit polls from all of the contested primaries since contraception-gate began. You'll see that the only statistically significant gender gap in Santorum's numbers are the three states -- particularly Arizona -- where he did much better among women than among men.
Of course, this doesn't fit nicely into the media narrative of social conservatism, traditional values, and Catholic belief being some conspiracy against women, so it not only gets ignored -- the truth gets inverted.
ADDENDUM: It's true that Santorum lost Michigan women by more points than he lost Michigan men, but that's not because Santorum is doing worse among women, but that Romney is doing worse among men -- Romney got 43% of women and 39% of men. Santorum got 38% of both.
And just for the record, here are the relevant lines of the other writers who used bad math or reasoning to claim Santorum is struggling amongst women:
Boston Herald columnist Margery Eagan: "Santorum lost Michigan because he lost women — by six points. He lost every category of women: single, married, old, young, working, stay-at-home. He lost women still having sex and grandmothers who used to have sex while committing the “grievous moral wrong,” as Santorum puts it, of using birth control."
CBS News: "In Michigan, Santorum lost among women voters by five points, which helped give Mitt Romney his slim victory there."
U.S. News & World Report's Rebekah Metzler: "A Michigan exit poll showed former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney garnered support from 43 percent of women voters compared to 38 percent for Santorum."
The Daily Beast's Patricia Murphy: Female voters in Michigan spoke out Tuesday night, but they weren't singing Rick Santorum’s tune. The former Pennsylvania senator lost the Michigan primary to Mitt Romney by 3 points due in large part to his weakness among Michigan women. Although Santorum lost among Michigan men by just 1 point, he lost the women's vote by a full 6-point margin, leaving him well behind Romney and unable to close the gap with male voters in any way.
Howard Fineman, on Twitter: "Santorum lost because he lost among women. Which is why his speech tonight began with paean to his college-educated working mom."
The Washington Post's Jen Rubin pulled a similar trick on Ohio: "In Ohio, Santorum lost the women's vote by three points, much more than the margin of difference between him and Romney." It seems more relevant that Santorum got 37% of women and 37% of men, while Romney just did 4 points better among women than among men.