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The gender gap and the American presidential election

Women helped propel Barack Obama to the White House in 2008, but their flagging enthusiasm for him reflected in recent polls has created uncertainty about who will capture the female vote in Tuesday’s election.


Four years ago, women voters supported Obama over Republican John McCain by 56 percent to 43 percent. Among men, the Democrat led McCain by just 49 percent to 48 percent.


But women’s enthusiasm for Obama as president has slipped this year, making his road to re-election more difficult.


He is narrowly favored to win the female vote, but in many national polls, the incumbent’s lead over Republican Mitt Romney among likely women voters has dipped to single digits. Re u ters/Ipsos polling data last week had it at nearly 5 percentage points. He trailed among likely male voters by about 6 points.


Republicans point to Romney’s gains with women since his strong performance in the first presidential debate on Oct. 3.


Marguerite Hunsinger, 59, of Flagler Beach, Florida, who had been undecided, said the debate shifted her to Romney’s camp.


“I’d been very, very skeptical about Romney,” said Hunsinger, a self-described homemaker. “And I just thought he acted very presidential and capable, and he had answers that I agreed with more.”


In contrast, she said Obama “was like asleep. … It felt like he was just wasn’t there.”


Romney’s camp accuses Democrats of condescending to women by overemphasizing issues like contraception when polls show men and women both care more about jobs and the economy.


Democrats note that Obama continues to hold significant leads among women in the decisive swing states and say the women’s vote will help propel him to victory.


Women comprise more than half of the U.S. electorate, and in presidential elections, about 7 percent more women vote than men.




Democrats insist that Obama outshines Romney on many issues important to female voters, from healthcare to education, equal pay and fair taxes.


Evelyn Miranda, 47, of Hialeah, Florida, said she had been undecided, but recently embraced Obama because of his positions on social issues and insistence that the wealthy pay higher taxes.


“He wants to tax people more who make more money. I am really for that a lot,” she said.


Miranda, an artist and teacher, also said she worried that Republicans might ban abortion, a position with which she disagrees after experiences with student sexual abuse survivors.


Obama’s current support margin among women is not only below his own 2008 performance but that of Al Gore in the 2000 election. Gore, then the Democratic vice president, narrowly won the popular vote but lost the Electoral College to Republican George W. Bush.


“Certainly, team Obama would like to see their national margin among women higher,” said Tufts University political scientist Richard Eichenberg, who is tracking this year’s gender gap and estimates Obama’s lead among women nationally at 8 percentage points.


“In 2008, he had an extra cushion when he won big (+13 among women), and Gore won narrowly with +11. So I think that they would like that 8-point number a little higher,” Eichenberg said.


But Obama’s standing among women remains strong in the battleground states he will need to clinch all-important electoral votes. “He leads among women by large margins in virtually all the swing states,” Eichenberg said.


For example, in Ohio, Eichenberg noted polls during October showed Obama with a 12-point lead among likely women voters.


Romney’s solid showing – and Obama’s poor one – in the first debate in Denver upended the presidential race. Obama had been building a lead before he and Romney first went head-to-head. Romney has since gained steadily in the polls.


For the week ended Sept. 30, just before the debate, Reuters/Ipsos poll data showed Obama leading Romney by 52 percent to 41 percent among a sample of 1,022 likely women voters. He also led among likely men voters, by 47 percent to 44 percent.


Last week, Obama led Romney among likely female voters by 48 percent to 44 percent, and trailed among likely male voters by 50 percent to 44 percent, the Reuters/Ipsos data showed.



Obama’s team has courted women with ads stressing his support for equal-pay legislation, abortion rights and contraceptive insurance coverage. The Democratic National Convention featured high-profile women emphasizing those issues.


They slammed Romney for shifting positions on abortion and contraceptive rights since his 2002 election as governor of Democratic-leaning Massachusetts and for failing to support Obama-backed legislation easing the way for women to sue over workplace pay discrimination.


But some analysts said that approach might help explain Obama’s flagging support, in a year when economic problems and a high jobless rate worry voters.


“The Democrats have been very focused on what we call the particularistic concerns of women, such as abortion, equal pay and contraception,” said Lara Brown, a political scientist at Villanova University.


“I’m wondering if the women who are migrating toward Romney, they’re just saying to themselves, ‘Abortion and birth control and equal pay are not my issues, what I’m more concerned about is the overall state and health of the economy.'”


Marion Kirschner, 33, of Delaware, Ohio, placed herself among those voters.


The Romney supporter called herself “kind of liberal” on social issues like abortion and gay marriage rights – which Romney opposes – but said government should focus elsewhere.


“I think the government should worry about the economy, domestic issues and foreign policy. That is more important to me than social issues,” said the married mother of 17-month-old twins, who works at an aviation company.


Vicki May, 43, of Colonial Heights, Virginia, said she hoped Romney would improve the economy, while expressing anger with Obama.


“I’ve been out of work for three years and I haven’t been able to find anything,” she said. “They keep saying there are jobs out there, but I haven’t noticed.”


Source:  http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/11/03/usa-campaign-women-idUSL1E8LVFRT20121103


‘Gender Gap’ Near Historic Highs

…The gender gap is nothing new in American politics. Since 1972, when exit polling became widespread, men and women split their votes in three elections: 1996, 2000, and 2004. They came close to doing so on several other occasions. In 2008, for example, Mr. Obama won resoundingly among women, beating Mr. McCain by 13 points, but only won by a single point among men.


The biggest gender gap to date in the exit polls came in 2000, when Al Gore won by 11 points among women, but George W. Bush won by 9 points among men — a 20-point difference. The numbers this year look very close to that.


Since the first presidential debate in Denver, there have been 10 high-quality national polls that reported a breakout of results between men and women. (I define a “high-quality” poll as one that used live telephone interviews, and which called both landlines and cellphones. These polls will collect the most representative samples and should provide for the most reliable benchmarks of demographic trends.)


The results in the polls were varied, with the gender gap ranging from 33 points (in a Zogby telephone poll for the Washington Times) to just 8 (in polls by Pew Research and by The Washington Post). On average, however, there was an 18-point gender gap, with Mr. Obama leading by an average of 9 points among women but trailing by 9 points among men.

If that difference carries forward to the exit polls, it would reflect among the largest gender splits ever, rivaling the 20-point difference from 2000, and a 17-point difference in both 1980 and 1996.


The gender gap has been growing over time. It was nearly absent, for instance, in 1972 and 1976, the first two years that the exit polls tested it.


But after the Roe v. Wade decision in 1973, reproductive rights became a greater focus in presidential elections — particularly under Ronald Reagan in 1980, who was more willing to campaign on the issue of abortion than most of his predecessors. The gender gap jumped to 17 points that year, with men much more likely to vote for Mr. Reagan.



The gender gap has sometimes been widest when there is a Democratic president running for re-election, as in 1980 or 1996 (or a Democratic vice president looking to ascend to the presidency, as in 2000). Women, apart from their tendency to vote Democratic, also seem slightly more inclined than men to give the incumbent party another chance. When the incumbent is a Republican, as in 1976 or 1992, this can mitigate the gender gap. When the incumbent is a Democrat instead, as for Mr. Obama this year, both trends operate in the same direction, making it wider.

One area where gender politics is less important is in planning Electoral College strategy, since roughly equal numbers of men and women vote in each state. Nevertheless, the Electoral College can serve as a way to demonstrate to scope of the difference in how men and women vote.


If the current FiveThirtyEight forecast were re-calibrated to show an overall 9-point lead for Mr. Obama — his lead among women in polls since the Denver debate — he would be a clear favorite in states totaling 347 electoral votes. Mr. Romney would be favored in states containing just 140 electoral votes. Another 51 electoral votes would be too close to call.



About the opposite would happen if Mr. Romney led nationally by 9 points — his current advantage among men. He would be all but certain to win states with a total of 321 electoral votes, and would be highly competitive in traditionally blue-leaning states like New Jersey, Oregon, and Washington.


The large gender gap comes despite the fact that men and women’s economic roles are becoming more equal — according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, women represented 47 percent of the labor force as of September — and that women suffered at least as much as men in the recent economic downturn.


The unemployment rate among women was 7.5 percent as of September — up from 7.0 percent when Mr. Obama took office in January 2009.


The unemployment rate among men is higher — 8.0 percent as of September — but it has declined rather than increased since Mr. Obama took office. It had been 8.6 percent in January 2009, and peaked at as high as 11.2 percent later that year.


This suggests the gender gap instead has more to do with partisan ideology than with pocketbook voting; apart from their views on abortion, women also take more liberal stances than men on social issues ranging from same-sex marriage to gun control.


Presidential candidates have faced increasing pressure to align with the bases of their parties on social issues. Mr. Obama reversed his previous position to support same-sex marriage this year. Mr. Romney has long since abandoned a number of moderate stances he took on social issues as governor of Massachusetts, when he said he supported abortion rights. So long as the ideological gap between the parties grows, the gender gap may grow as wel…


By Nate Silver 

From http://fivethirtyeight.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/10/21/gender-gap-near-historic-highs/?hp

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