Does the Gender Gap in Political Attitudes and Behavior Vary across Racial Groups?

Article excerpt

Past research on the gender gap in political attitudes and behavior has paid very little attention to the experiences of nonwhites. Particularly lacking are empirical studies involving Asians. How significant is the role of gender among Asians? How does gender gap in the extent of voting participation and direction of political opinions vary across racial groups? In this preliminary examination on the confluence of race and gender, this author tries to answer the research questions using a census survey and a national poll of multiracial opinions. Logistic regression results show that the significance of gender does vary across racial groups, but it also changes according to the behavior domain investigated. In the election of 1992, small but significant gender gaps in voting registration existed among whites and blacks, but not among Latinos and Asians. Gender was not useful to predict turnout among those registered for any race. When race intersects with gender to predict political orientation and public choice, few of the slope coefficients of the interactive terms are significant and those for Asian and black women bear an opposite sign to those for white women.

Past research on the gender gap in mass political behavior tends to investigate male-female differences in the American electorate as a whole, without regard to racial group differences.l Generally, the gap has been diminishing in recent decades in terms of voter turnout, but it has not vanished in other areas of political participation (Baxter and Lansing 1983; Conway 1991; Teixeira 1992; Rosenstone and Hansen 1993; Scholzman, Bums, and Verba 1994; Scholzman, Burns, Verba, and Donahue 1995; Conway, Steuernagel, and Ahern 1997). In fact, if the issue is not whether one participates but how one participates, the gap has widened during the same time period. Women are much more likely than men to be liberal in political ideology, partisanship, vote choice, and on issues of compassion (Sapiro 1983; Mansbridge 1985; Poole and Zeigler 1985; Shapiro and Mahajan 1986; Wirls 1986; Carroll 1988; Seltzer, Newman, and Leighton 1997). These findings, however, are based almost exclusively on observations of the white electorate. When the opinions of African and Hispanic Americans are the focus in a small number of empirical studies, the evidence of a gap appears to be somewhat mixed and its contours different (Shingles 1981; Baxter and Lansing 1983; Brischetto 1987; Tate 1993; Welch and Sigelman 1989, 1992; Garcia et al. 1992; Lien 1994; Montoya 1996). When the role of gender among Asian Americans is examined at all, the research has been limited to participation activism and its findings may only apply to a specific region (Lien 1994, 1997). Moreover, almost all of the studies cited above have been driven by empirical concerns. There has been very little attempt to theorize gender roles and their possible intersections with race. Particularly missing from this group of research is an account of women of color whose experiences "formed through the intersecting processes of racial formation, labor exploitation, and gender subordination" (Lowe 1997: 272) may manifest political differences that set them apart from their white male and female counterparts.

Does the gender gap in the extent and direction of voting participation and political orientation vary across racial groups? Specifically, how significant is the role of gender among Asian Americans when compared to that in other racial groups? According to recent census surveys, Asian American women have attained an overall level of educational achievement and income status comparable to or even surpassing that of non-Hispanic white women. Their seemingly privileged socioeconomic position presents an interesting opportunity to study the interplay of race and gender on a group of nonwhite women whose economic class is not predominantly a lower one. The case of Asian American women is an intriguing one for, as explained later, their apparent prosperity in the present day may not shield them firom being sexually and racially discriminated against in the economic sphere. …