Where’d the 2016 Gender Gap go?

Actually, it was really big.  That said, probably not as big as a lot of people were expecting.  My friend Barry Burden (and colleagues) with a nice piece on this in the latest issue of the Forum.  Some highlights:

The reality of the 2016 election did not match these expectations. Although men and women continued to vote for different parties on average, exit polls showed that 54% of women and 41% of men voted for Clinton, a gender gap of 13 points. As Figure 1 shows, this disparity between the sexes is larger than gaps observed in previous elections, by not by much. It is only three points larger than the gap in 2012 and just two points larger than it was in 2000. 5 Rather than a dramatic break with prior elections resulting from the Clinton-Trump face-off, 2016 represents the continuation of a gender divide that has slowly expanded in recent decades…

Partisanship aside, popular commentary on the gender gap in 2016 also overlooked what political scientists know about the issue areas where men and women disagree. Although politicos and journalists pay a great deal of attention to the politics of gender, gender in the electorate itself does not form as strong of a partisan cleavage as do social characteristics such as race, ethnicity, and religiosity. Despite the prominence of “women’s issues” such as abortion rights and birth control access, public opinion scholars have long observed men and women to have fairly similar attitudes on these issues on average. Instead, the “issue content” of the gender gap – where it exists at all – falls more strongly along social welfare policy, economics, and foreign policy, as well as the relative salience given by men and women to these issue areas (Chaney, Alvarez, and Nagler 1998; Manza and Brooks 1998; Kaufmann and Petrocik 1999; Box-Steffensmeier, De Boef, and Lin 2004; Kaufmann 2006)…

Gender was a central factor in the 2016 campaign. How could a contest between a hyper-masculine misogynist and the first female major party candidate not be? Yet expectations for a “Grand Canyon” sized gender gap were not met in large part because they were out of step with previous scholarship on the gender gap and scholarship on partisan voting behavior more broadly. The gender gap in vote choice from past elections already reflected gender differences in party preferences and in policy views, broadly speaking. And due to the recent growth in the constraint between partisanship and discrete issue preferences, neither partisanship nor voters’ issue preferences are manipulable in the way that journalistic conjectures often assume.

Advertisements

About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State http://faculty.chass.ncsu.edu/shgreene

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: