Academic journal article Political Research Quarterly

Explaining the Gender Gap in U.S. Presidential Elections, 1980-1992

Academic journal article Political Research Quarterly

Explaining the Gender Gap in U.S. Presidential Elections, 1980-1992

Article excerpt

This article compares the voting behavior of women and men in presidential elections since 1980. We test whether the different levels of salience which men and women attribute to different issues or the different preferences men and women have on issues best accounts for the gender gap. Utilizing theories of different issue emphasis between men and women, we use a multivariate model to demonstrate that a combination of respondent views on the economy, social programs, military action, abortion, and ideology can consistently explain at least three-fourths of the gender gap in the 1984, 1988, and 1992 elections. We show that, consistent with prior research on individual elections, women placed more emphasis on the national economy than men, and men placed more emphasis on pocketbook voting than women. We add evidence showing that women have consistently more negative assessments of the economy than do men, suggesting that a part of what has been considered a Republican-Democratic gender gap is really an anti-incumbent bias on the part of women. We also clarify the interpretation of partisan identification in explaining the gender gap.

In 1992 the Democratic presidential candidate received a greater share of the votes of women than of men. This continued a phenomenon seen in all presidential elections since 1980, in which women have consistently voted at a higher rate than men for Democratic presidential candidates. There have been many efforts by political analysts to understand what causes the gender gap in presidential voting which date back to the presidential election of 1980. Initial speculation that the gender gaps of 1980 and 1984 were simply a personal reaction of women against Ronald Reagan were dispelled in 1988 when the gender gap was as much as 20 points in polls during the summer of 1988and when George Bush still suffered a gap of 13 points on election day despite a pointedly aggressive bid for women's votes (Mueller 1991).

In August 1996 public opinion polls documented one of the largest gender gaps in presidential preference since the term was first coined in the early 1980s. One poll showed that women preferred Clinton to Dole by 26 points while men preferred Clinton to Dole by only 7 points. This represents a gender gap of 19 points. Explanations for this gap ranged from Dole's problems with the Christian Coalition over abortion, to women's preference for Hillary Clinton over Elizabeth Dole. In this article we offer a coherent explanation of why one group of voters would have significantly different electoral preferences over the span of four consecutive presidential elections.

We consider two general issue-based explanations for the gender gap. First, the gap could be explained by different preferences of men and women on different political issues. For instance, a majority of women might feel that the government should increase social welfare spending, whereas a majority of men might feel that the government should decrease social welfare spending. Given candidates representing different views on this issue, we would expect to see a gender gap in vote choice. Second, men and women might have the same preferences (ideal issue positions) on issues but attach different levels of salience to different issues. For instance, women and men might favor legalizing abortion in roughly the same proportions; but women might view this as an important issue that could determine their vote, whereas men might view this as a relatively unimportant issue. Thus while men and women may share identical views on an issue, they may politicize those views, or not politicize those views, differently Part of our goal is to determine whether it is different preferences on issues between men and women, or different saliences attached to issues between men and women, that contributes more to the gender gap. Consistent with previous work, we hypothesize that men and women are most likely to differ in their opinions of, or in how they politicize, issues of compassion, abortion, and the use of force in international affairs. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.