Worth Discussing

Understanding the Gender Gap

Jon McHenry | Resurgent Republic | May 24, 2012

The discussion of the "War on Women" between the Democratic and Republican camps in the last few months focuses in large part on perceptions of a gender gap for Republicans.  Recent elections have traditionally shown a gender gap on both sides of the aisle, with Republicans performing better among men and Democrats earning more support among women. The natural question in light of this spring's discussion is whether the gender gap is worse for Republicans now or reflective of well-known challenges evidenced in recent years.

The gender gap was seen in 2008, with John McCain competitive among men (trailing Barack Obama 48-49 percent in exit poll results) but not competitive among women (trailing 43-56 percent).  But that gender gap masks the effect of race.  McCain won among both white men (57-41 percent) and white women (53-46 percent).

That surface gender gap remains in polling data now.  For example, in Resurgent Republic's May 2012 survey, men nominally favor Republicans on the congressional generic ballot 44-43 percent, while women prefer the generic Democrat by a 47-36 percent margin.  By race, white men prefer a Republican by a 52-33 percent margin and white women prefer a Republican by a 44-39 percent margin, black men prefer a Democrat by an 85-9 percent margin and black women prefer a Democrat by an 85-3 percent margin; and Hispanic men prefer a Democrat by a 62-29 percent margin and Hispanic women prefer a Democrat by a 61-22 percent margin.  So a gender gap is still seen among whites, but with support among both white men and white women.

There is a gender gap in views of President Obama as well, with men viewing him unfavorably (45 percent favorable-50 percent unfavorable) and women viewing him favorably (55-42 percent).  White men and white women both give the President negative ratings, with white men giving the President a 36-59 percent favorable-unfavorable rating compared to a 47-49 percent rating among white women.

Looking at Resurgent Republic's November 2011 survey indicates that any change since November is minor, with a slight improvement for congressional Democrats among white women (but not at the expense of congressional Republicans).  Republicans still hold an advantage among Independent white women, although the margin has tightened somewhat from +13 in November (37-24 percent) to +5 today (35-30 percent).

The small gender gap among whites for congressional candidates disappears for several issues tested in the May 2012 survey.  For example, men prefer a conservative view of fairness focused on eliminating crony capitalism and everyone paying their share over a liberal view focused on the rich paying their fair share by a 60-35 percent margin and women prefer a conservative view by a 59-34 percent margin.

Women agree with men on the statement that the way to reduce the deficit is to restrain government spending and reform our tax code to promote more growth, rather than that we must have more revenue if we are ever going to close the deficit and make the wealthy pay their fair share (51-41 percent among women and 54-39 percent among men).  But women split on increasing capital gains taxes, with 45 percent agreeing that it makes no sense to raise capital gains taxes since it will reduce revenue for the government and 44 percent agreeing that we should raise taxes on capital gains for the wealthy, regardless of whether or not it will increase revenue for the government, because we need to ensure fairness.  Men agree with the conservative view by a 49-42 percent margin.

Perhaps because President Obama is specifically named, there is a gender gap seen on energy as well, albeit one that shrinks when considering race.  Women overall agree that President Obama's energy policies have been good for the country by a 48-43 percent margin, while men agree that President Obama's energy policies have been bad for the country by a 55-39 percent margin.  White women agree that President Obama's energy policies have been bad for the country by a 49-42 percent margin (53-39 among Independent white women, 12-78 among black women, and 41-53 among Hispanic women), while white men agree by a 62 to 33 percent margin (26-69 among black men and 38-53 among Hispanic men).  Ultimately, the failed policies of any administration are laid at the president's feet, but conservatives would do well to keep the focus on the policy as much as possible.

To the extent that the gender gap exists today, the left has done a better job pointing to conservatives’ “War on Women” as the cause. However, the timeline suggests that the gender gap today is relatively consistent with the political landscape from November of last year. That being said, Republicans should continue to closely measure any additional movement among Independent white women.

Filed under: Political Climate, President Obama, Gender, and 2012 Election