Gender and the Election

Dante, Roy, and Noah


This election cycle has been one of the most peculiar to date. We have candidates proposing gigantic walls, no official endorsement by our president, and a socialist contender. Many of these peculiarities can be attributed to the unique demographic makeup of each candidate’s supporters. While it is inferable (and true) that Sanders’ liberal beliefs would garner support from the younger population, one would generally not infer that Sanders would win the female vote. Fifteen years ago if you asked me what demographic would support Hillary Clinton, I would guess young women.  This is not the case, however, Clinton loses young women to Sanders by almost 30 points.[1]

In 2008, Barack Obama won 95% of the black vote. Obama was motivational and inspiring to many young black men and women. Similarly to Obama, Clinton has had a fruitful and long political career. Being a marginalized population, one would infer that women are more likely to vote for Clinton in the same way that people of color voted for Obama in 2008 (95% of black vote and 67% of the Latino vote). [2] According to the Washington Post, while there are a few similar traits in the female democratic voting population, and women are not following the same pattern from 2008.

Unlike race in elections, gender in terms of voting behavior predictability is much more complex. Like race and culture, it is difficult to make sweeping generalizations and predictions for a group of people based on their similar characteristic of gender; rather it may just be the antithesis of the study of sociology. In campaign data, we see that if you “run a big logistic regression analysis with a bunch of characteristics that predict someone’s vote, the coefficient for gender doesn’t usually show up as being all that significant”. 3 So, does this mean we cannot use gender as a simple measure of how someone will vote, either Republican or Democratic, or even between candidates?

Interestingly, on the Democratic side of the current presidential campaign, we do see a trends associated with gender. It is clear that Bernie Sanders garners heavy support from young people including women, but for young women who believe they have faced gender discrimination, they vote for Hillary Clinton over Sanders. Similarly, older women are more likely than young woman to say they have faced gender discrimination in the workplace and pressure in raising a family, likely due to the history of the country and the timing for feminist movements (while gender discrimination is undoubtedly still an issue today, many issues have been improved upon for young people today). 3 This is especially interesting because it shows that voters will vote according to their personal experiences, in what they faced. Hillary Clinton, as a woman has faced years of discrimination due to her gender, and perhaps women who feel they have also been treated differently for their gender feel an inclination towards Clinton. While Clinton has indeed said that she does not want people to vote for her based solely on her gender, it may be plausible that women may feel she would better address gender inequity issues than Sanders could. Thus, gender, while not a good predictor in itself, may be an avenue for potential campaign predictors if we can combine regression techniques of other factors such as perception of gender discrimination, which placed in a social, economic, and historical context can provide powerful results.

What about on the Republican side of isle? Currently, Republicans have a substantial “women problem.” The gender gap has been a fairly consistent feature of Presidential elections in the past few decades. In 1992, 45% of women voted for Bill Clinton, while 37% went for George Bush (a gap of 8%). Since then, the gap has fluctuated, but remained a significant barrier for Republican candidates in the general election. In 1996, the gap was 16%; in 2000 it was 11%; in 2004 it was 3%, in 2008 it was 13%, and in 2012 it was 11%.[1]

In the 2016 race, Republican prospects of decreasing the gender gap have not improved. Especially with Donald Trump as the front-runner, women will likely flee the Republican Party. A recent Gallup poll found that 70% of women have unfavorable opinions of Donald Trump—compared with 58% of men.[2] That means that Donald Trump does worse with women than did Mitt Romney in 2012.[3] Together this evidence suggests that Republicans can expect a gender gap of greater than 11% in this years election should Trump gain the Republican nomination. A gap this large will make it almost impossible for the Republicans to take back the White House.

There are many potential explanations for this gender gap. Many commentators speculate that it stems from the issues on which each party tends to focus: because Democrats talk more about reproductive rights, equal pay, and universal child care, they tend to do better. Whatever the reason, Republicans can expect to do poorly with women this year.










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