WASHINGTON, Feb. 24 (UPI) -- Rick Santorum became more popular among U.S. women as he voiced opposition to abortion, birth control and federal funding of prenatal screenings, a poll shows.
The Washington Post-ABC News poll shows the Republican presidential candidate is not only faring better among Republican women than a few weeks back but also is less unpopular -- albeit, also less known -- among Democratic and independent women than rivals Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich.
Voters and political strategists say Santorum's gains can be attributed more to his ability to relate to struggles of the middle class than his views on controversial women's health issues, the Post reported.
But it remains to be seen how Santorum, a former senator from Pennsylvania, and other GOP candidates would fare in a general election contest in which Democratic and independent women are expected to play a pivotal role.
The Post-ABC poll showed Santorum's popularity among Republican women has risen 13 points since January, with the biggest gain in the past week, to a 57 percent approval rating. That compares with 61 percent who view Romney favorably, though Romney also has higher negative ratings among Republican women.
The Post said there are no indications Santorum's ratings among women in either party has declined in recent weeks.
At the same time, the Post-ABC poll showed Santorum and other Republicans have high negative ratings among Democratic women.
On Thursday, Santorum criticized President Barack Obama, saying on Glenn Beck's online show if Obama were re-elected: "I think this country would be fundamentally different at that point. I think we will have lost the very essence of what America is about."
The Hill reported Santorum said on the show Obama is "using the Constitution in many respects like the French use the French Constitution, which is to wield it and impose their will on the public."
Santorum said the United States is moving toward "European socialism, at a minimum."