St. Louis Post-Dispatch - Pollster offers warnings on GOP's 'woman problem'

By Bill Lambrecht

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WASHINGTON • Pollster Linda DiVall has polled for GOP presidential hopefuls and helped send numerous Republicans to Congress.

Her Virginia-based company, American Viewpoint, has conducted surveys for more than a dozen Missouri Republicans, among them Roy BluntJim TalentBlaine LuetkemeyerEd MartinJo Ann Emerson and Jason Smith

In surveys for political and corporate clients, DiVall keeps a close eye on women's perception of Republicans. 

What she charted in a survey released this week might cause heartburn among GOP strategists. She also offers a tonic or two.

"The clear thing that stands out is that perceptions of the Republican Party are pretty terrible," she said in an interview.

Divall found negative views of the GOP in all but three of 11 groups of female registered voters.

In her online survey, Republicans in Congress held favorable ratings only with groups she identifies as Medicare WomenMarried Homemakers and a segment of the female electorate she calls The Disenchanted.

Republicans fared especially poorly in the category of Suburban Women (54-36 percent unfavorable).

She described as the core of the Democratic coalition groups she calls Social Media MavensSingle ProfessionalsMarried Moderates and Millennials.

What should Republicans do?

First, stop putting so many white males on the ballot.

"Whenever possible, we should recruit a woman or a Hispanic or an Asian instead of looking at the typical male state legislative politician," she said.

"The more we can broaden and diversify the face of the party, the better off we'll be in terms of trying to change the image of the party so that we're more in sync with America today."

Republicans, she added, need to offer candidates with "friendly faces, not negative doomsayers."

GOP politicians who reflexively pan proposals for new revenues might want to know that the subject of taxes doesn't rank high on the meter of women's economic worries.

Women have concerns about the economy, Divall said. But the top four are: retirement; health care costs; paying the bills and affording a home, she found.

DiVall found openings for her party. Female respondents in every  group answered a survey question by saying that government is "doing too much" rather than needing to do more.

In Democratic-leaning groups, that concern may well be that government is spending too much time on proposals related to abortion and marriage equality.

Even so, concerns about an intrusive bureaucracy plays into a dominant GOP theme.

And even though major parts of the Affordable Care Act are not yet in effect, nearly half of women say they expect health care premiums to rise in coming years.

"That's another opportunity for Republicans," DiVall said. "The problem is talking about consequences of something that's not in existence. But the fact that so many women think their premiums will increase suggests that disenchantment is going to be rather speedy here."

In general, Republicans need to stress the disconnect between Obama administration policies and the economic realities of women's lives.

She noted the GOP should worry that so many young women are aligning with Democrats. That was born out by responses from women ages 18 to 29, who favored Democrats over Republicans by a margin of more than 3-1.

"When we were young, when Ronald Reagan was the face of the party, younger people were very attracted to the Republican Party," she said.

"We really are at a significant crossroads."