Gender Gap: What Do Women Want?


If women are from Venus, Democrats must be too.

Democratic candidates get a much larger number of votes from women than they get from men. It’s known as the “gender gap” and it’s a major obstacle for Republicans in national and local politics.

Women’s background and position in society help to explain the gap, said Kristi Andersen, the Chapple Family Professor of Citizenship and Democracy at the Maxwell School of Syracuse University.

“Women are in a different structural position in society than men,” Andersen said. Society, for example, expects women to bear the largest portion of childcare, she said. That and other obligations mean women are more likely to need government programs, she said. “It’s something about the positions in which women find themselves in society and how they’re socialized and brought up.”

And women’s life experiences affect how they see public policy and politics, said Andersen.

Some signs, collected by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press, of the gender gap:

  •  Starting in 1980, more women have supported Democratic candidates for president than men, by at least 4 percentages points. In the 2000 presidential election between Republican George W. Bush and Democrat Al Gore, the gender gap was its widest, with women going for Gore more than men by 12 percentage points.
  • In the 2008 election, 56 percent of women and 49 percent of men voted for the Democratic candidate, now president Barack Obama.
  • In party affiliation, women also are more likely to identify as part of the Democratic party — with 52 percent of women and 43 percent of men in a March survey, for example, saying they were Democrats.
  • In this year’s presidential race, Obama, a Democrat, is leading his likely Republican challenger Mitt Romney, former Massachusetts governor, among women voters by 20 percentage points.
  • Unmarried women are even more likely to vote for Democratic candidates — 62 percent of single women identified as Democrat and 48 percent of married women did.
  • Young women are even more likely to support a Democratic candidate. In the survey, 64 percent of women under 50 supported Obama, while 58 percent of those 50 to 64 did.
  • But at least one survey gives a sign of hope for Republicans, with the gender gap disappearing among older women. Among women 65 and older in the March survey 48 percent picked Obama while 49 percent said they’d vote for Romney.

A local GOP congressman is an example of an official trying to bridge that gap. U.S. Rep. Richard Hanna, R-Barneveld, is running for re-election in the 22nd Congressional District.

Hanna has publicly criticized the Republican Party for its attitude toward women and birth control. In March, he attended a rally for the Equal Rights Amendment. Hanna also founded Annie’s fund, a charity for women and girls in need.

“Richard Hanna is a longtime champion for women in his private and public lives,” said Jennifer Battista, campaign spokeswoman, in an email interview. “Rep. Hanna is devoted to advocating for women and girls by promoting policies like equal pay for equal work, and access to quality education, health care and economic opportunity for all Americans regardless of gender.”

Certain issues are important to women voters, said Joan Johnson, co-president of the Syracuse Metro League of Women Voters. It’s a civil education organization that does not endorse political candidates or parties.

Among the issues that draw women, said Johnson, are health care, child care and equal employment.

Things that are typically considered “women’s issues” aren’t why women lean toward Democratic candidates, experts say.

“A lot of people are talking about social issues, but it’s really safety-net issues that account for the gap,” said Kathy Kleeman, senior communications office for the Center for American Women and Politics, a research institute at Rutgers University. Women perceive themselves as needing government programs, Kleeman said.

The emphasis among women voters nationwide is clear. Recent surveys by the Pew Research Center have shown:

  • 45 percent of women and 36 percent of men want an activist government.
  • 65 percent of women and 54 percent of men said the government isn’t doing enough for the elderly.
  • 62 percent of women and 52 percent of men said the government isn’t doing enough for children.
  •  61 percent of women and 52 percent of men said the government isn’t doing enough for the poor.

Whatever motivates women to support Democratic candidates, women’s voting patterns can make a big difference, SU political science professor Andersen said.

“Women both outnumber and outvote men,” Andersen said. “That means that women are really influential.”

(Julie McMahon is a graduate student in magazine, newspaper and online journalism.)


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