Ross Douthat has a great article up on the gender gap. After discussing Obama’s bizarre and paternalistic appeals to women (the Life of Julia bullshit, the first time video I posted below) and his attempt to make abortion the key issue of the election (e.g., the “War on Women”), Douthat notes:
The gap between men and women on issues like abortion is overstated, and the female preference for Democrats predates Roe v. Wade. In a recent blog post, Christina Wolbrecht of the University of Notre Dame calls the gender gap “a recurrent, if not consistent, feature of presidential elections throughout the postwar era,” which probably dates to Barry Goldwater’s 1964 presidential campaign.
Not coincidentally, that was a year when Republican economic rhetoric took on a particularly individualistic cast. If there’s a deep driver of the gender gap, it’s usually views about spending and the role of government. Men are more likely to be libertarian, women are more likely to be communitarian, and this creates what Wolbrecht calls a natural “divergence in preferences for social welfare policies.”
This helps explain why, among recent elections, the gender gap yawned widest in 1996 — not an election with many culture-war flash points, but a year when Bill Clinton relentlessly tied Bob Dole to the Congressional Republicans’ attempted cuts to domestic spending and entitlements.
It also helps explain why Romney made ground with women after his performance in the first presidential debate — when he mostly pivoted toward the center on economic issues, and emphasized solidarity and community rather than “you built that!” individualism.
I think this analysis is dead on. I know few people — pro-life or pro-choice — for whom abortion is the make-or-break issue. And those few are party line loyalists anyway (there was a huge amount of dissension within NOW, for example, when the New Jersey chapter endorsed pro-choice Republican Christine Whitmann for governor). Douthat’s specifics are a little off: the history of the Gender Gap is pretty consistent apart from 1992, which is affected by the Perot factor.
But the underlying cause — a difference of opinion on the size of government — is probably accurate. It can be seen in the direction our politics has moved since the 19th Amendment was passed. Indeed, one of the arguments of the suffragettes was that certain views were not being represented in politics. But the key words in that are that women are “more likely to be communitarian”. We’re talking probability, not destiny. We’re talking about a difference, not a yawning chasm. A majority of women voted for Reagan. Twice. Women are not socialists; nor are they infants. They Democrats have done a very good job, for the last twenty years, of playing the “elect Republicans and you’re going to be poor” card, not just to women, but to everyone. I have to think, at some point, the endless condescension and paternalism of the Democratic Party is going to catch up with them and the gender gap will shrink.