Yes, Virginia (and Ohio and Florida and Connecticut), There IS a Gender Gap

Despite recent headlines like “The Disappearing Gender Gap,” “Closing the Gender Gap,” and “Obama, Romney Erase Gender Gap Among Voters,” don’t be fooled: The gender gap–the measurable difference between the way women and men vote for candidates and view political issues–is not disappearing. To the contrary, it is driving the 2012 election.

Nate Silver of The New York TimesFiveThirtyEight blog, after a thorough analysis of many presidential polls, concluded on October 21 that the “Gender Gap Near Historic Highs.” Silver’s calculations revealed an 18 percent gender gap, with President Obama’s support among women up by nine percent over Mitt Romney while he trailed Romney among men by 9 percent.

But women and men do not cancel out each other’s votes. That’s because women both register and vote in higher percentages than men, and will be casting about 10 million more votes than men in the 2012 election. In the last presidential election, women cast 9.7 million more votes than men, according to the Center for American Woman and Politics (CAWP), and Gallup found that 53 percent of the vote was cast by women compared to 47 percent by men.

More important than national statistics, Obama is leading in swing states precisely because of the gender gap. In Ohio, for example, a newly released (October 31) Quinnipiac University/New York Times/CBS poll of likely voters has Obama leading 50 percent to 45 percent, with 56 percent of women for Obama and only 44 percent of men, creating a 12-percent gender gap. According to the same poll, in Florida and Virginia Obama is leading by a slight margin, boosted by a 10-percent gender gap.

I have been studying women’s political behavior since the early 1970s and first identified the gender gap in 1980 with the help of legendary pollster Louis Harris. In those days, most analysts considered the gender gap unimportant because Ronald Reagan won the presidential election despite a gender gap. Since I first identified it, though, the gender gap has only grown, and no serious analyst or political professional can ignore it.

The gender gap first appeared during the Equal Rights Amendment campaign in 1980. It persisted and expanded because of the increasingly different stances of the two major political parties and most of their candidates on women’s rights. Issues ranging from equality in pay and employment, abortion and contraception, Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security have all fueled the gender gap.

In 2012, it is no wonder the gender gap is so pronounced. A blizzard of hostile legislation (over 1,000 bills) has been introduced in the past two years against women’s reproductive rights in Congress and in many states controlled by conservative legislators and governors. In the legislative War on Women, the Paycheck Fairness Act has been endlessly filibustered in the Senate, the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act is being blocked in the house and several hundred extreme anti-abortion and birth control measures have been passed in both the House and in state legislatures.

The gender gap is also showing a pronounced impact on key U.S. Senate races. For example, according to the October 31 Quinnipiac poll, Ohio senator Sherrod Brown (D) leads challenger Josh Mandel because of a 12-percent gender gap. In Connecticut, Chris Murphy (D) leads against Linda McMahon with a 10-point gender gap, despite the tens of millions of dollars McMahon is spending on her race. For a more comprehensive list of key U.S. Senate races with gender gap data, see an analysis of polls by Jennifer Jackman of Salem State University.

Women’s votes will make the difference in 2012. And the women’s vote will never again be ignored in U.S. politics.


  1. Jackie De Hon says:

    The Gender Gap is widening. I was born and raised in Texas. After college we had to move to other states to find jobs. Now Texas–which turned into a very anti-woman, anti-citizen, anti-everything state during the 40 years I was working out of state–has treated women abominably! William Peck wrote in the San Antonio Express-News that the National Women’s Law Center reported the Texas wage gap is 18.2 cents–the amount less a full-time, employed woman made in 2011 for every dollar a man made. The national earning gap was 23 cents.

    This is not a thing to be proud of–and it needs to be corrected! We deserve equal pay for equal work. We must pass laws that require this. We must elect public officials who care about the people and our welfare rather than those corporations are buying with huge campaign donations to work on their behalf. We must fight for our right to control our own bodies and to have healthcare for all.

    One important path to reaching this goal to remove the time limit from ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. As soon as women got the vote, Alice Paul wrote the Equal Rights Amendment. It was introduced into every Congress from 1923 to 1972 when it passed. But Congress placed a time limit on its ratification. I have found no other amendments with a time limit, and recently Congress ratified a 200 year old amendment relating to its pay. By the time 35 states ratified the ERA, the time ran out. We need three more states to ratify. We are working to get our elected officials to approve removal of the time limit–to pass H.J. Resolution 47. Once this is done and the last three required states ratify the ERA, it will become a part of the Constitution. Then we should be able to force equal treatment for all citizens. Every woman must contact her Congressional Representative and urge her/him to support HJ 47. We must do this NOW!

    Jackie De Hon, Ph.D.

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