Nor were the delegates representative of much else beyond GOP activism. A Washington Post survey of the delegates found 72% thought abortion should be illegal in all or most cases. Only 52% of registered Republicans--and 41% of all registered voters--hold such views. On affirmative action for woman and minorities, 83% of the delegates were against it, compared with 52% of all registered voters.
Party activists are expected to be a bit out of step, but they are supposed to stay in touch with the mood of the public they hope to represent, and the Republicans should have seen the problem coming many years ago.
The Democrats' lead among women voters is not new; but the scale of it this year is revolutionary. And because 52% of all registered voters are women, the electoral advantage to the Democrats is even greater than it looks.
The gender gap began to emerge as a serious political phenomenon in 1976, when Carter beat President Gerald R. Ford by four points. In 1980, Carter still had a three-point advantage among women; Mondale widened it to four, and Dukakis managed a five-point gap. Clinton in 1992 won by six points among women--but the double-digit lead he now enjoys has no parallel in U.S. political history.
Because the phenomenon began in the 1970s, it is tempting to place this in the context of Roe vs. Wade and offer the glib explanation of abortion. That is what the (male) Republican leaders appear to believe, from their contortions over the party platform and the strenuous efforts at the convention to play down the abortion row.
Most of the public fuss focused on the complaints of the pro-choice Republicans that they were not given the podium, or when they were permitted prime-time, it was to deliver a carefully neutered speech. Colin L. Powell had the personal authority to deliver a single phrase on the matter--and was booed for his pains.
But the anti-abortion camp had equal reason to complain. Their point of view, having triumphed in the platform, was then pushed firmly aside. Former Vice President Dan Quayle was able to attack late-term abortion, but the passionate statement of conviction of a Patrick J. Buchanan or a Pat Robertson at conventions past were powerfully discouraged.
Republican pollsters have put huge effort into researching their gender problem. Kellyanne Fitzpatrick's research suggests that gender is a far less reliable voting indicator than other clues--from homeownership to marital status to church-going.
Moreover, there is some cogent evidence, in polling by Linda DeVall and a separate Gallup study, that abortion is not the core issue explaining female disaffection. In the Gallup study, women ranked abortion 10th in a list of 12 issues of concern, far behind the economy, crime, education and family issues.
Rather like defense and patriotism for the Reagan Democrats, family issues may be what jars Republican women loose from their loyalties. They seem to be the trigger that starts them looking at Clinton's Family Leave Act and Medicare for elderly parents and college loans, and all the other social programs that the GOP revolution in Congress threatened over the past two years.
Ann Stone, of Republicans for Choice, suggests that abortion "is just the tip of the iceberg," and even staunch anti-abortionists like Bay Buchanan, now a single mother while also campaign manager for her brother Pat, acknowledges that the party simply does not know how to relate to her sex in general.
"We have done very little to explain how we understand women's problems," she says. "The Democrats give them something like the minimum wage to make women feel they are concerned, they care. I don't think our party knows how to reach women from the heart,"
At least this year they are trying. Four years ago, the stridency of the anti-abortion camp at the Houston convention dismayed one GOP delegate, Tanya Melich, who tried to explain the effect of an encounter with the Operation Rescue zealots in her book "The Republican War Against Women."
"When I returned from the confrontation with (Operation Rescue leader) Randall Terry, I went to my hotel room and cried," she wrote. "I realized I literally hated George Bush, and I knew I could not go to the convention floor that night and vote for him."
Dole has avoided that kind of defection this year, sidestepping this issue by saying he has not even read the GOP platform. This is a document promising "legislative and judicial protection of that right [to life] against those who perform abortions."
This appears to mean that doctors who perform abortions will be treated as criminals. At least, that is the way we can expect Clinton to put the question at the presidential debates, when he asks Dole if he has read that part yet. Knowing what the Reagan Democrats did to Mondale and Dukakis, the White House will leave no stone unturned to turn today's gender gap into November's Clinton Democrats.