Pay Equity Bill Exposes Gender Gap Politics for Senate GOP

Article excerpt

Like so many legislative arguments, this week's intensified debate about the gender gap in wages has been obscured by a fight over which side has the better statistics.

President Barack Obama and his fellow Democrats in the Senate like the Census Bureau data, which shows total earnings by women were 77 percent of what American men made in 2012. Republicans and business groups point instead to 2012 numbers from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, which suggest a narrower chasm: Women earned 86 percent of what men got.

Which formula offers the fairest measure is ultimately beside the point on both policymaking and political grounds.

No matter how many caveats and qualifiers are factored into the calculations, the result from those and all the other government and academic studies is consistent. Women are still paid measurably less than men for doing the same work. And the Republicans in Congress are steadfastly opposed to the legislative remedies they've been offered for closing the gap. Both truths have remained essentially unchanged for years.

What has changed is the political gender gap, steadily widening and reaching record proportions -- to the seemingly obvious and dangerous detriment for the Republicans.

Looking only at results for the major party nominees in 2012, Obama won among women (who cast 53 percent of the vote) by a whopping 12 points but lost the male vote to Mitt Romney by 8 points -- a 20-point gap that had not come close to being matched in presidential polling done by Gallup since 1952. In the past six elections (since Michael Dukakis lost the female vote as part of his landslide defeat in 1988), the Democratic nominee has won women by an average of 10 points.

Even in the 2010 midterms, when Democrats lost control of the House by losing the national congressional vote by 7 points in the tea party wave, they managed to win 49 percent of women who showed up at the polls.

The advantage Democrats have built and sustained with female voters is dramatically underscored by the evolving congressional roster.

When Nancy Pelosi won her special House election in 1987, she became the 14th Democratic woman in a Congress with 12 GOP women.

Today, Pelosi is one of 20 females in the Democratic delegation from California alone. At the same time, there are only 23 women in all of the Republican lawmaking ranks. (There are 78 Democratic women in Congress.)

On top of these numbers are now added the particularities of this year's midterm elections, in which the singular story is whether the GOP wins control of the Senate. And, through coincidence or fate, the path for that victory will require a collection of GOP men to vanquish some of the nation's most prominent Democratic women. Challengers for the Republicans (all of them men) will need to knock off at least one of the three female incumbents in the most electoral danger: Mary L. …