Can New Mexico Governor Susana Martinez Fix GOP Ladies’ Problem?

governor susana martinezAs a Latina from the Southwest I feel proud to see Governor Susana Martinez at the helm of New Mexico and as a potential Republican vice presidential pick.  I respect her hard work and know the obstacles she has faced as a woman of color.  I applaud Governor Martinez, but I wouldn’t vote for her.  She may be a woman and a Latina, but I don’t agree with her policy positions.  And it’s this policy discrepancy that will ultimately keep ladies—Latinas and non-Latinas alike—from supporting a Romney-Martinez ticket.

Women consistently support Democratic candidates over Republican candidates, regardless of the gender of the candidates.  Since 1980, there has been a discernible gender gap in how men and women vote.  For example, in the 2008 presidential election women favored the all male Obama-Biden ticket by seven percentage points over the McCain-Palin ticket.   Even in 2010 when a record number of Republican women, ran and were elected to office the gender gap remained; women continued to be less likely to support Republican candidates.

Susana Martinez was one of the GOP women swept into office in 2010.   She had the curious circumstance of running against a Democratic woman, so the possibility of attracting votes based on gender alone was not an issue in this race.  We don’t know exactly what the general voter breakdown was based on gender since there were no exit polls.  However, we do know from the Latino Decisions Election Eve poll that only 30 percent of Latinas voted for Martinez while the rest voted for her Democratic challenger.  In other words, the gender “gap” was more of a gulf in 2010 among New Mexican Latinas and very likely among non-Latina women.

victoria defranceso sotoThe idea that women vote based on shared gender status is simply not the case.  Women vote based on their policy positions.  More specifically, women tend to have more liberal social and fiscal policy views that fall in line with the Democratic platform.  As a result, women vote in greater numbers for the Democrats.  And it just so happens that the vast majority of women that run and are elected are Democrats, masking the fact that women are making their choice based on issues such as gender equality and not on gender alone.

The possibility of gender trumping partisanship is not impossible, but it is only likely to occur if the candidate and voter in question are close on the ideological spectrum.  But in the case of Governor Martinez, her policies are so conservative that she will not be able to attract moderate Democratic or even Independent women.  Governor Martinez is not pro-choice, opposes gay marriage and civil unions, and takes an enforcement-only approach to immigration reform.   All three of these positions are in opposition to the policy preferences of the majority of women.  And while Latinas are slightly more pro-life than non-Latinas, still upwards of 40 percent of Latinas are pro-choice.

At first sight it would seem that the Republican Party could make up ground with women and Latinas in particular by choosing Governor Martinez as the vice presidential nominee.  She is indeed a well-respected GOP candidate, but her crossover appeal among women is not there.  Its going to take more than seeing a fellow woman on the presidential ticket to woo Independent and Democratic leaning women, but then again didn’t the GOP already learn that lesson?

Victoria Defrancesco Soto
Dr. VMDS

This post originally appeared on NBCLatino.

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