When Gallup came out with a new poll showing the president opening up an 18-point lead with women, pundits blamed the war on women. But according to a new study, Republicans might have someone entirely different to blame: Ann Romney.
No, I'm not referring to when she went on the radio and was asked about how her husband "comes off stiff."
"Well, you know, I guess we better unzip him and let the real Mitt Romney out because he is not!" she said, explaining why some Republican operatives yearn for the days of Sarah Palin's message discipline.
In fact, the academic study that helps explain the country's gender gap has nothing specifically to do with Ann Romney, but rather the fact that she doesn't work outside the home. A recent study by Sreedhari Desai, an assistant professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, found that men in traditional marriages with stay-at-home wives had negative attitudes about working women and organizations led by women, and they were more likely to deny opportunities to women.
Desai and her fellow researchers conducted a series of experiments, including one with married graduate students looking for jobs. Those in traditional marriages (that is, one in which the wife did not work outside the home) were much less likely to seek interviews for openings with companies that had higher percentages of women on their board or for which women would be doing the interviewing.
Another experiment asked male managers to pretend to be executives and recommend applicants for advancement, except the two, Diane and David, applicants had the same experience and education.
"Those who were in traditional marriages were less likely to recommend Diane and more likely to recommend David," said Desai.
This spills over into 2012 as we fight the war on women like some kind of real-life Mad Men reenactment. Desai took a look at her data and found a correlation between her research and today's headlines.
"One thing that did come through was those men who are in traditional marriages are against giving teenagers access to birth control," she said.
Benefitting from this cultural divide is Barack Obama, whose wife worked outside the home until she became first lady. Michelle met her husband when she was asked by her law firm to mentor a summer associate named Barack.
Thanks to the Republicans' obsession with birth control, women under 50 are fleeing Romney and supporting Obama, who holds a better than 2-to-1 advantage in that demographic. Obama is natural in his role as women's rights protector-in-chief because, as he recently said in a video address to Planned Parenthood supporters, "Women are not an interest group. They're mothers and daughters and sisters and wives. They're half of this country, and they're perfectly capable of making their own choices about their health."
Desai isn't saying that the men consciously think all women should be doing what their wives are doing. She believes that the men denying women promotions are doing so for the same reason Barack Obama is trying to give women the right to make their own health care decisions: The world just makes more sense that way.
"I would like to give the men the benefit of the doubt because we are in 2012," said Desai. "Some progress is being made."
Desai originally hypothesized that men with positive attitudes toward women grew up in households with working mothers, but research showed that "having a working mom had almost no influence on these men's attitudes," she said.
Now she thinks these attitudes begin with the household chores. The thinking is that when a boy sees his dad do some housework that he stops seeing it as women's work, something that hits home since she and her husband are expecting their first baby, a son, any day now.
"I'll have to make sure that my husband does the dishes and that my son sees him doing the laundry on occasion," she said.
"We need some kind of mini revolution for sure," said Desai, and I'm pretty sure she was talking less about her husband using a vacuum cleaner than the need to help some married men accept that a woman's place is in the office, the boardroom, and if he's lucky, in the home.