Mars And Venus In Missouri

The most decisive phenomenon in Tuesday's presidential election could be the so-called "gender gap" - and the most decisive swing state could be Missouri, reports CBS News Correspondent Anthony Mason.

In the last century, voters in the Show-Me State have picked the winning presidential candidate all but once.

Whom they pick this time could depend on who exercises the most political muscle: Missouri's men, or its women.

One Missouri man, Mark Wetzel, is a father of five, who served in the Air Force for seven years. After he left the service, Wetzel and his family went through tough times.

"We qualified for food stamps for probably five or six years with three children," he said.

Today, Wetzel is his company's top car salesman. He's voting for George W. Bush because of his pro-life stance - and he is very attracted to what he calls Bush's support of free enterprise.

"The government has taken on a larger role in the life of a lot of everyday people and I think if that were lifted and removed people would by definition be required to become more self-sufficient," he said.

Jennifer Hill, another Missourian, helps get welfare recipients into the workforce.

She said, "If Bush is elected he's going to cut this program."

Having been homeless once herself, Hill said she knows how much women in poverty need government assistance and believes Al Gore knows too.

"The most important thing to me is the fact that no people get left behind, and I mean that in terms of economic justice," she said.

Wetzel and Hill see the political landscape completely differently, and that mirrors what a CBS News / New York Times poll shows. Since 1980, women have put more votes in the Democratic column than men have. The gap was 9 percentage points in 1980, 7 points in 1984, 8 points in 1988, 4 points in 1992, and 11 points in 1996.

And this year is no exception. Bush holds a 5 point lead overall, but has a 14 point lead among men, while Gore holds a 2 point lead among women.

Gore holds a 10 point lead among unmarried women - those most likely to feel financially insecure. Married women favor Bush by 3 points.

Men and women also seem to have different priorities when it comes to the campaign issue they care most about.

Women are a third more likely than men to care most about education, and almost twice as likely to care most about health care.

Mark Wetzel and Jennifer Hill hold opposing views on those and other issues.

Bush, the GOP presidential nominee, wants to raise military spending by $45 billion and add a missile defense system. The Texas governor has also said he might bring home American peacekeepers.

Gore, the Democratic nominee, would actually increase military spending by even more - $100 billion. The vice president would modernize the current generation of weapons and invest in new technology, as well as continue American missions abroad

Even though Goe would spend more, Bush's heavy emphasis on the military during this campaign has struck a cord with male voters like Mark Wetzel.

"Vice President Gore has helped preside over a very big downscaling of our military," said Wetzel.

Most women are less concerned.

"There's no reason to think that we aren't prepared unless we're expecting some kind of full-scale, world-wide conflict, said Jennifer Hill.

There's also a divide on taxes. Gore wants to use the budget surplus for Social Security and health care. The vice president's also called for only targeted tax cuts for lower and middle income earners - and for deductions on education expenses.

Bush wants an across-the-board tax cut for all income groups, particularly families with children. He also wants to end estate taxes. The Texas governor's big tax cut seems less appealing to women like Jennifer Hill.

She said, "I pay a significant tax bill, but I feel that that is my obligation as a citizen."

Men are more likely to favor a big cut.

"The American people know how to spend their money better than the government does," said Wetzel.

What it all adds up to is different views of government: for men, a meddlesome burden; for women, a helping hand.

And the poll numbers bear that out: While nearly two-thirds of men overwhelmingly want to reduce government's size, slightly less than half of women feel that way.

"I'd like to see us in general, the average person, be much more responsible for themselves, said Wetzel.

"It is our obligation as a society to provide for those of us who are less fortunate than ourselves," said Hill.

The poll finds 61 percent of undecided voters are women, which could be a good sign for Gore. On the other hand, in this campaign, no constituency can be taken for granted.