The voting gender gap that’s been with us for three decades is on track to rear its head yet again on Tuesday—and it could be even more potent this year. As Nate Silver put it on October 21, “If only women voted, President Obama would be on track for a landslide re-election.” Surveying ten of what he defines as high-quality polls, Silver found an average eighteen-point gender gap, with Obama up nine points with women and down nine with men. One poll found the gap was as wide as thirty-three points.
Since that time, this trend has continued. An ABC News/Washington Post poll found Obama outdoing Romney among women by eleven points on October 25. And just yesterday Pew’s national poll found Obama edging ahead of Romney thanks in part to increasing support from women, who favor him by a thirteen-point margin, up from six points but a week ago. (Don’t believe the post-first debate media hype that Romney had erased the gap.)
But what makes this year different are the forces driving the trend. Despite the conventional wisdom, women don’t tend to vote based on their own unique set of issues, social or otherwise. Historically, what’s driven the gap is social spending, not what we typically describe as “women’s issues.” Women are far more likely than men to support generous social spending on the safety net, while men tend to be primarily concerned with the deficit.
Yet in this campaign cycle, when Gallup asked female registered voters in twelve swing states, “What do you consider the most important issue for women in this election?” what many see as the quintessential social issue, abortion, was by far the most common answer, with 39 percent of women bringing it up. Interestingly, but perhaps not surprisingly, abortion didn’t rank at all for men when asked the same question about their gender. (Dear gentlemen: don’t forget that it takes two to tango—and end up with an unwanted pregnancy.) Women are also far more likely to trust Obama on another issue considered primarily their concern, that being access to birth control: 57 percent of them think Obama will ensure better government policies on contraception, versus 34 percent who trust Romney. Gallup reports that these results reflect women’s views nationally.
This is echoed in a poll conducted by Lincoln Park Strategies of 1,000 likely voters in October at the request of the Rad Campaign. The pollsters asked respondents by phone if they agreed or disagreed with the statement: “Lawmakers in Washington have been engaging in a War on Women, by taking away women’s rights to contraception, denying equal pay for equal work, and curbing a woman’s right to choose.” Big numbers of women across the political spectrum agreed: 68 percent of liberal women, 63 of Democrats and 54 percent of independents. Even about a third of Republican women agreed.