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From the Issue: Summer 2016

Pollsters & Reporters on the Gender Gap

by Zoe Camp

Ms. interviewed top pundits who first spotted the gender gap. Their perceptions reveal the struggles in understanding and coming to terms with women having different views of the world and voting their interests. Below are excerpts of a longer interview posted on msmagazine.com/gendergap.asp.

In 1972, Republican pollster Vince Breglio worked for Nixon's Committee to Re-elect the President when he first noticed gender differences. The leading theory was that it was about the Vietnam War. Fast-forward to 1980 when Breglio, then Ronald Reagan's pollster, found the gender gap widening in favor of Democrats and convinced the campaign to start wooing women voters. "No question, the growing women's movement and campaign for the ERA contributed to women moving toward the Democratic candidate," Breglio said.

Jon Margolis of the Chicago Tribune was one of the first to use the term "gender gap," after looking at exit polls from the 1980 elections. Margolis noticed more women voting Democratic, a shift that he said was "if not unprecedented, then unusual." On his way to cover the Democratic National Committee meeting, he asked a young Bill Clinton, who had just been defeated as governor in the Reagan landslide, "What can you guys do to exploit this gender gap?"

Adam Clymer of The New York Times wrote an early Page One gender-gap story in June 1982. Clymer said, "The national desk was trying to get it on the Sunday front page, and the top editors at the paper, Abe Rosenthal and Seymour Topping, signed off. But the Sunday editor didn't believe it." This editor kept coming up with last-minute objections. Finally, he explained, "This can't be in any way true; my wife always votes the way I do."

At times, Democratic pollsters had to remind party leadership about the potential of the gender gap. ReneĢ Redwood remembers a 1991 meeting with then-DNC Chairman Ron Brown when she had formed a partnership with Stan Greenberg, and later, <Celinda Lake. "It was just after the Clarence Thomas hearings when Anita Hill spoke up about sexual harassment. There I was explaining how the hearings had sparked a tsunami across America among women," Redwood noted. "This was especially true among African American women who felt the issue was about respect and trusting women."

Lake, a Democratic pollster who coauthored What Women Really Want, commented on the 2016 trends: "What we are already seeing is a record gap between men and women who are married. This is the biggest, earliest gender gap ever among married people. We asked married voters if they usually vote the same way as their spouse: 73 percent of married men said confidently, 'yes,' compared to 49 percent of married women. I call that the 'sure, honey' factor."

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