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Is GOP at war with women? 4 points to keep in mind on the gender gap

To hear all the buzz, Republicans are at war with women. Mary Kate Cary, former speechwriter for Bush the elder, recently claimed “The GOP is hemorrhaging the women’s vote” and called on party leaders to turn things around quickly.

Americans hear lots of talk about the gender gap, the difference in how men and women vote. Democratic leaders and activists focus their attention on so-called women’s issues to shore up the female vote, while Republicans wring their hands and wonder what they can do to win back the women.

A reality check is in order. Here are four points Republicans should keep in mind as they look to bridge the gender gap and chart a winning path to November.

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Ann Romney, wife of Mitt Romney, speaks in Atlanta March 1. Democrats are accusing the GOP of a 'war against women.' Op-ed contributor Amy Black says Republicans should make the effort to win more female votes, but they should take cues from what women voters – not feminist activists – say matters most in the election: the economy.

David Tulis/AP

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1. Interpret polls correctly

Polling data are useful; they provide a good snapshot of what people are thinking at a given moment. But they are just that – an instant picture of the political landscape. The candidate poised to save the party one week is sent to the showers the next.

Many discussions of the gender gap misinterpret its meaning. By definition, a gender gap in voting is the margin of difference between the male and female vote for a candidate –  not the difference between women themselves as they choose between the candidates.

In a recent poll by the Pew Research Center, women preferred President Obama to Republican Mitt Romney by 20 points (a large gap to be sure). That’s the kind of polling number that has Republicans such as Ms. Cary so upset, but it doesn’t tell us anything about differences between men and women. The gender gap revealed in the same poll (58 percent of women preferring Mr. Obama versus 49 percent of men) was only 9 points – still a gap, but by no means a chasm.

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