Among Democratic Voters, No Gender Gap

Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-NY) addresses an AFSCME meeting October 31, 2007 in Washington, DC. Clinton accepted the endorsement of AFSCME during the event. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)
Getty Images/Win McNamee
By Kathy Frankovic, CBS News director of surveys

The gender gap - the difference in how women and men vote in an election and react to political questions - doesn't seem to matter much this year in the Democratic presidential selection process. Among Democratic primary voters in the October CBS News Poll, men were just as likely as women to support Hillary Clinton for the nomination (just over 50 percent in both cases), and Democratic men and women expressed generally similar views of her. More than seven in ten male and female Democratic primary voters viewed Clinton favorably, two-thirds said she would unite the country if elected, and very few - only about 5 percent of each sex - agreed with one perceived Clinton weakness: that she has less honesty and integrity than others in public life.

There are still gender differences when we look beyond Democratic partisans. Independent women were 12 points more likely than independent men to have a favorable opinion of Clinton. And they were 11 points more likely to withhold any judgment about whether or not they would vote for her if she were the Democratic nominee. While a plurality of men independents saw Clinton as someone who would divide the country, the reverse was true of women independents: women were more likely to see her as someone who would bring people together.

We don't often evaluate women at the national level - except for First Ladies. And it's important to recognize that in these polarized times, partisanship nearly always takes precedence over gender. In a CBS News Poll taken last February, men and women Republicans gave similar evaluations of Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. So did men and women Democrats. Republicans (both men and women) were ten times as likely to give Rice a favorable as an unfavorable rating, while Democrats (men and women) were twice as likely to dislike her as to like her. Once again, it was independents who showed any gender difference at all: although male and female independents gave Rice a positive rating, the margin for men was much larger (two to one) than the very narrow positive rating she received from women.

Gender differences in assessment of Rice are clearly mediated by feelings about U.S. foreign policy, especially in reactions to the war in Iraq. The sexes have almost always differed when it comes to opinion about specific wars and about the strategy of war in general.

This is not new. In 1920, the Democratic National Committee expected newly enfranchised women to take the Democrats' side in the election. One reason why was war and peace, especially Woodrow Wilson's support for the League of Nations. In an ad in the November 1920 McCall's Magazine, the Democratic National Committee headlined: "Women Voters! The Future of a War-Worn World Is Yours to Decide." And the party's candidate (who would lose to Republican Warren G. Harding) greeted women's suffrage by saying: "The civilization of the world is saved. The mothers of America will stay the hand of war…."

In 1980, pollsters first noticed the gender gap. Men gave Ronald Reagan a 20-point margin over Jimmy Carter in that election, while women voters divided evenly. This gender gap continued in the sexes' approval ratings for President Reagan throughout his two terms in office, and it seemed to be explained best by the differences in how men and women looked at Reagan on foreign policy. Women were more likely than men to say they worried that Reagan "might get us into a war."

This kind of gender gap shows up in many questions about war and peace - on questions about U.S. military incursion into places like Panama in 1990, and on whether or not the U.S. should invade Iraq in 2003. Women are consistently less likely to support military action. The gender gap exists today, even with controls for party identification, when Americans are asked how long U.S. troops should remain in Iraq. In the last CBS News Poll, a majority of all women (52 percent) said U.S. troops should not remain in Iraq for more than one more year. That sentiment is shared by only 38 percent of all men. Gender differences exist for both Republicans and Democrats. A third of women Republicans want U.S. troops out of Iraq after a year, while only 15 percent of Republican men do. Among Democrats, half of the men want U.S. troops to remain in Iraq for one more year or less, and nearly two-thirds of women do.

Many women also have a different view from men about what works best when it comes to keeping the U.S. safe from terrorism. By a margin of 55 percent to 41 percent, men say it is better to confront groups and states that support terrorism, while by 49 percent to 39 percent, women say it is better to stay out of other countries' affairs.

Clinton doesn't fit the pacifistic female stereotype (and neither does Rice). But so far that hasn't hurt the Democratic frontrunner with women, and may very well be helping her secure the support of men.
By Kathy Frankovic