« Dead Heat in New Democracy Corps Poll | Main | SurveyUSA Polls Show Close WH Race in Key Swing States »

About That Vanishing Gender Gap

On Wednesday, Katherine Seelye solemnly informed us in The New York Times that "Kerry in a Struggle for a Democratic Base: Women". Today, Lois Romano piled on and claimed in the The Washington Post that "Female Support for Kerry Slips", which was particularly heavy with theorizing about the importance of the alleged "security mom". Both articles, however, were thin on data and logic, never stopping to ask themselves whether, if Kerry has less support than he did, say, six weeks ago, whether he has actually lost more support among women than among men. And neither bothered to look at how women stack up to men in terms of being politically motivated and supportive of the president because of security issues.

Nah. Too complicated.

First, let's take the issue of how much women's support of Kerry has changed compared to men's. Here's what Philip Klinkner, Professor of Government at Hamilton College and contributor to the political science blog, PolySigh, has to say:

[Wednesday's] NYT reports that the Kerry campaign is worried about losing support among women. The story however provides no evidence that the gender gap is closing. The only numbers cited show that Kerry is running worse among women than Gore did in 2000, but Kerry's also been running worse than men. In fact, there's no evidence that Kerry has lost any more support among women than among men. Bush, at least until recently, has been running better than Kerry, so that almost inevitably means that he'll be doing better among women as well as among men. But is there any evidence that Bush is closing up the gender gap? In fact, to paraphrase Mark Twain, reports of the demise of the gender gap are greatly exagerated.

In 2000, exit polls showed that Democratic vote for women was 54-43 and for men it was 42-53. Calculating the gender gap as the women's Democratic vote minus the men's Democratic vote divided by two, that gives a gender gap of 11 points [((54-43)-(42-53))/2]=11

In the latest (early September) WaPo poll, the Democratic vote was 49-43 among women and 39-57 among men. That's a gender gap of 12 points...a bit higher than in 2000. The latest ARG poll shows women voting Democratic 50-42 and men 42-51. That's a gender gap of 8.5 points, a bit lower than in 2000. Both polls suggest that the gender gap is running about where it was 4 years ago.

Furthermore, there's no evidence that Bush's recent surge came more from women than from men. The early August WaPo poll showed Kerry leading Bush 50-44. The early September poll had Bush up by the same 50-44 margin. That means Bush picked up a net of 12 points (he went from down 6 points to up by 6 points). In August, Kerry was running 56-39 among women and 44-50 among men. That means Bush picked up a net of 11 points among women (from down 17 to down 6) and a net of 12 among men (from up 6 to up 18). Thus, the Bush surge came equally from men and women.

Well, that takes care of that. Now on to the security moms nonsense. Pollster Anna Greenberg is all over this one, as you can see from checking out her excellent memo, "The Security Mom Myth". Here are some excerpts from the memo:

Sixty-four percent of women voters are married, but only 43 percent have children under 18 years of age. This means that only 26 percent of all women voters could be characterized as “security moms.” If we narrow the analysis to white women, this number goes down to 22 percent of all women voters. Women are diverse and trying to characterize them as a monolithic group with unified set of political views misses the mark. As we know, there are huge differences among women voters, just look at the marriage gap between married and unmarried women. Kerry currently wins unmarried women by 22 points and loses married women by 4 points.

...Women tend to be more worried about their personal and economic security than men, which is not surprising because they are more likely to be victims of crime at home and they are more likely to live on the economic margins. But this concern about personal security does not necessarily translate into political preferences. In fact, men are much more likely to make the war on terrorism and security a part of their voting calculus.

...Since 9/11, Bush has garnered strong ratings on security from everybody...It is important to note, however, that men give Bush stronger ratings on all matters of security than women: they prefer Bush on the war on terrorism to Kerry by 26 points while women only prefer Bush by 9 points; they prefer Bush on foreign policy by 9 points, while women are evenly divided between the candidates; and they prefer Bush on being respected in the world by 10 points while women prefer Kerry by 13 points.

Women are more skeptical, moreover, about the situation in Iraq than men and women (55 percent) are more likely than men (47 percent) to say that the war in Iraq has made us less secure.

Well, you know what they say: you can't believe everything you read in the papers. And the Times and the Post have provided us with a couple of fine examples.


Hi Ruy and DonkyRising:

I appreciate you taking on the "gender slippage" by Kerry. But, unless I"m missing something, I still have the same concern about Kerry and gender voting as I did before I read these stories (and I do want Kerry to win, so I want him to win the women's vote by a wide margin).

Much of your analysis talks about Kerry's women's vote v. Gores, or about how Kerry's support among women has slipped at the same time his support among men has slipped.

I hoped you'd take on this data, from the NYT piece, directly:

"In a New York Times/CBS News poll conducted last week, women who are registered to vote were more likely to say they would vote for Mr. Bush than for Mr. Kerry, with 48 percent favoring Mr. Bush and 43 percent favoring Mr. Kerry"

That says that Kerry is polling lower (in that poll , now) than Bush is. I doubt that Gore ever polled lower among women than Bush did, or that Clinton ever got lower polls among women than his opponents did.

That's what concerns me : Bush appearing to get a larger percentage of the women's vote in this election than does bush in this election.

I really doubt it will be the case, but I think it's a nasty turn if it's even a transient problem for him.


But "security mom" is such a clever term -- how could the phenomenon possibly be a myth?

When the Bush campaign trotted out the term "Security Moms" as allegedly existing and replacing "Soccer Moms" I wondered how long before they would succeed in foisting this fraud on major media.

Our media are so weak now, that even the major organs simply repeat what they're told, or given in the form of memos laying the arguments out.

Ruy, that is a spectacular analysis, and I would bet you that a COLUMN, not just a letter, pointing that out as well as other shibboleths you have exploded would PROBABLY get printed in the NY TIMES. It really is amazing how the press, with such huge budgets and means to be accurate could be so careless.
Another example of this radical disjuncture between press means and achievement is found in their ability, even on short notice, to confront McCain with the fact that language he criticized Kerry for using about the war in Iraq had also been used by Bush; yet, in over six months, the falseness of the claim of Kerry "flipflopping" on NAFTA and the Patriot Act has not been made clear by ANYONE in the mainstream press OR by the Kerry campaign itself. That would also be nice and more likely to shake up what seems to be a prescribed agenda for this election, to see as the subject of an oped column. But here is definitely an opportunity to correct a clearly miscast issue with what looks like about as solid proof to the contrary as could be found.

The New Republic online has an article that's along those lines, Ruy. They argue that the security moms don't even really exist, because the only evidence is the 2002 turnout, when Democratic turnout was a lot less, period. A lot more married women voted Republican because a lot of them were Republican.

Keef, the trend among women voters is troublesome for Kerry if taken at face value (but not necessarily fatal; Ruy does a good job at cutting through the numbers.) But I'm a bit suspicious of the CBS poll; where are they getting such low favorable ratings for Kerry (low 30's)? Other surveys have his favorables in the 40s or low 50's--not great, but enough to be competitive against a not terribly popular incumbent president.

Excellent analysis. I thought the same thing when reading the article - where are the facts? And what made the authors target this category of potential women voters, while the real story is the large numbers of young unmarried women who don't vote? Or that they tend to lean Democratic? Or that equality and reproductive freedom are more important to them than a false sense of security?

Where is the article discussing the implications a Bush presidency on womens' lives, for instance the blocking of the emergency birth control pill by Bush's FDA appointee, and how such policies might affect the way women vote? What about hundreds of thousands of women who attended the March for Womens' Lives in Washington this spring - an awful lot of women, many of them in this very body of young unmarried women voters, became involved in the political process for the first time as a result of that march, so wouldn't that be an interesting article for follow up as to how this will impact the election? Or how about the stacking of the federal courts with judges like Charles Pickering, who Bush appointed in a recess after Senate Democrats blocked him. Pickering, who thanks to Bush is now a powerful federal judge, said "the wife is to subordinate herself to her husband" and that "the woman is to place herself under the authority of the man," and that "concern for rape victims is a red herring because conceptions from rape occur with approximately the same frequency as snowfall in Miami." Surely the the president of the United States taking positions that most women disagree with on everything from birth control to equal rights for women would have SOME impact on how they vote - and if not, surely that in itself deserves comment.

From the book "The Emerging Democratic Majority" by Judis and Teixeira:

"Stanley Greenberg, who served as Gore's pollster, asked over two thousand respondents to identify three reasons (out of eighteen choices) why they voted, or considered voting, for Gore and three reasons (out of thirteen choices) why they had doubts about voting for George Bush. Among all women voters, Bush's "opposition to a woman's right to choose" was the single biggest reason for opposing him..."

Allow me correct my previous comment with respect to the unmarried women voters being neglected in recent polls. That was Bush's appointee James Leon Holmes who wrote that women should be subservient to men, not Charles Pickering. But Pickering is also staunchly anti-choice... Also, I didn't identify Bush's FDA appointee who overruled the FDA panel and blocked the sale of the emergency birth control pill, he is Dr. W. David Hager, who refuses to prescribe contraceptives to unmarried women in his OB/GYN practice (and refuses to provide certain forms of contraception to any women - and now he is in a position to impact their availability to women.) These Bush appointees will have a large impact on the lives of this voting block of unmarried women. Are these women aware of this president's actions with respect to these issues, and will it motivate them to vote in larger numbers, or will it affect their choice of president? My point was that this is a story with a basis in reality, that could actually impact the election, in contrast to the manufactured "security mom" story.