Women, particularly political independents, don’t like Rush Limbaugh. That was the finding of a poll released last week by Public Policy Polling. It reported that while 56 percent of men had a favorable opinion of Rush, just 37 percent of women did. Nearly half of women had an unfavorable opinion of the conservative radio phenomenon. The total gender gap was a whopping 31 points.
Rush dedicated part of his show last week to a “women’s summit,” in which women callers offered their perspective on why such a gap might exist and what the host might do to boost his popularity. The callers had plenty of advice—most of which had to do with Rush’s famous, tongue-in-cheek bombast and willingness to buck political correctness. Rush stated empathetically he isn’t going to change who he is or what makes his show such a success.
Hallelujah to that. There's no reason for the nation’s most successful radio host to worry about reaching female moderates and Democrats. Even from the broad perspective of the conservative movement, Rush’s greatest strength is his ability to educate his audience about political philosophy and key policy issues, and to rally the troops. Without a doubt, many open-minded women (and men) have had their minds changed by Rush. Making his show more milquetoast and less entertaining in the hopes of converting a few liberal ladies would be counterproductive, to say the least.
It’s a different story for conservatism writ large. Supporters of limited government and their elected representatives do need to find ways to build support among women. This doesn’t require changing any fundamentals, but does mean understanding how to talk about issues in ways women connect with.
Democrats excel at this, particularly in appealing to women’s fears. Last year, for example, Sen. Kennedy highlighted polling data showing women were more worried about the economy. He claimed women are disproportionately affected by economic downturns and, naturally, need bigger government to help them. Yet a closer look at the poll told a different story. Yes, women were more concerned in 2008 about the economy; but a survey from the previous year showed they were more concerned then too. And women weren’t just more concerned about the economy. The poll found women worried more than men about health care, crime, the environment, drug use, a possible terrorist attack, unemployment, and hunger/homelessness.