Gender Gap Discussion (Nov. 1996)


Query From Steve Reshcly SDR@truman.edu 11 Nov 1996

One of the most significant factors in the 1996 U.S. general election was the so-called "gender gap". The final gap, in figures I've seen, was 16 points--54% of female voters voted for Clinton and 38% for Dole. The male vote was about equally divided. It seems this difference, which could be credited with deciding the election, has not been discussed sufficiently in the post-election analysis/spin/punditry. ... questions: First, some pre-election polls showed a gender gap much larger than 16 points, up to 30 point and beyond. Did the gap close just before the election, just as Clinton's overall margin saw some shrinkage as well? What accounts for the size of the gap, whether you view it as larger or smaller than it might have been? Second, where are we in the historical development of gender gap voting patterns? The first mention of a gap, as I recall, was the 1984 presidential election, Reagan-Bush versus Mondale-Ferraro. Have the origin and nature of gender differences in voting changed over time? According to _The Republican War Against Women_ by Tanya Melich, the gender gap dates at least to Nixon's southern strategy in 1968. And, of course, differences in voting was a main expectation of the woman suffrage movements of the 19th and 20th centuries.

Third, what happened in congressional and statehouse races? The overall gender gap of 16 points must not have held up in Congress, given continued Republican control of the House and Senate. Allowing for regional and local variation, why did the gender gap not affect Congress as much?

Fourth, what about other nations? Is there a similar gender gap developing? An Israeli friend told me that a gender gap appeared for the first time in their recent election of Netanyahu as Prime Minister. Is there a multinational pattern beginning to appear?

Fifth, what will happen with the Republican efforts to close the gender gap in future elections? I saw an interview with Haley Barbour, Republican National Committee Chair, in which he was asked how the Republica party can win women back. His answer was to emphasize the economy (cut taxes and regulations for women running business), crime and drugs--issues he said would be of interest to women. Will these approaches work?

Sixth, what does all this have to do with Hillary Clinton, as a lightening rod for gender anxieties

in American culture (phrase used in an American Studies session last weekend in Kansas City)? How much of the gender gap, if any, stems from hostility toward her and support for her, as opposed to arising from issues like abortion, affirmative action, sexual harassment and violence, military spending, and so forth?

Responses: From William B. Turner drturner@mindspring.com 13 Nov 1996

It seems to me that another factor to take into account for this question is, how reliable are the polls? Are those women who contributed to the larger gap in the polls the ones who, between getting the kids to school, going to work, picking the kids up, and preparing dinner (the "second" shift) never had time to vote?

>From Miriam Cohen cohen@vassar.edu 13 Nov 1996

One of the first discussions of the importance of the gender gap can be found in Ethel Klein's _Gender Politics: From Consciousness to Mass Politics_(Harvard, 1984).

>From Elizabeth Pleck e-pleck@uiuc.edu 13 Nov 1996

Sunday NY Times contains gap figures from 1972 to present for national elections. The common definition of gap is not how men and women vote but percentage difference between females and males voting Democratic. Thus, most polls show the gap in the 96 presidential election as 11 points, but some at 10 points. The Times (and other data) show that the second largest gap was Reagan in 1980.

Actually, Gallup poll data shows that the largest recorded gap in history was in the 1936 election because men were so much more likely to vote Democratic than women. That gap was not much noticed at the time--not at all noticed by historians--and occurred at a time when women's voter registration and turnout was lower.

As Nancy Cott points out, the suffrage movement did not intend, or anticipate a female voting bloc. However, many politicians did anticipae one, and acted on the basis of the assumption that one would develop.

The gap was first noticed by Reagan pollster Richard Wirthlin in 1979, picked up by Abzug after the 1980 election, and then "named" by a Washington Post reporter in 1982. Polling gaps are always wider before an election than at the polls.

>From Jeanette Keith keith@planetx.bloomu.edu 13 Nov 1996

...This question is fascinating to me. I have no expertise in this area, but wanted to throw in my two cents. I think part of the problem the GOP has is that they seem to project an aura of not liking women. Here in our little town in Pennsylvania, the Democratic HQ is run by a woman who used to be a staffer in a battered women's shelter. On election night the storefront was plastered with GOP stickers and the phone lines were cut.


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