Republican women may have flirted with Rick Santorum, but they're now less interested in going all the way. In the early contests, Santorum did better with women than with men. And he did better relative to Romney with women than with men. As Republican leaders have become increasingly extreme on women's issues, Santorum's chief backer made an outrageously offensive comment, and Santorum's own extreme social views came under close scrutiny, Santorum's standing with women worsened. Now, his early strength with women has become a weakness.
The table below shows the gender gap in Santorum's vote share in each contest, according to exit polls. The third column is the difference between Santorum's vote share among men and women. A positive number means women voted in larger numbers for Santorum than did men. The last column shows the gender difference in Romney's advantage over Santorum. A positive number means Romney did better against Santorum with women than with men, but it doesn't necessarily mean Romney beat Santorum with women in that state. States without exit polls (CO, MN, MO, ME, WA, ID, AK) and without a real contest (VA) are omitted. Everything below the line took place after Santorum began to falter on women's issues.
In the first three states, Santorum did better with women than men (a +4, +3, +6 gender gap), and the Romney-Santorum gap was larger with men than women (-2, -2, -3).
But Super Tuesday these two patterns reversed. Yesterday Santorum only did better with women than men in two states, Georgia and Oklahoma, not coincidentally the two states where Gingrich fared best. (Gingrich, for obvious reasons, does less well with women than men, and has in just about every state so far with available exit polling.) And in all the Super Tuesday exit polling (again, aside from Georgia and Oklahoma), the Romney minus Santorum gap was larger with women than with men.
This woman problem is not just Santorum's burden, though. While women make up a majority of the general electorate, they have only been the majority of Republican primary voters in two states so far -- Oklahoma and Arizona. Santorum may be losing ground with women, but the Republican Party as a whole isn't doing much better.