Doing research for Woman Power: The Femaleverse Strikes Back, I stumbled upon a table of Voting Choices In Presidential Elections (1980-2008) from the Center For The American Woman And Politics (CAWP). Among other data, the table shows the gender gap in voting which “…refers to a difference between the percentage of women and the percentage of men voting for a given candidate, generally the winning candidate.” To me, what the table shows is that when it comes to politics, women get it. Let me go into a bit of an explanation, or rather a lot of “opinionation,” on how I reach my conclusion. By the way, I’m rather proud of coining this term which combines the words opinion and nation (so apropos for a political post!), but let’s move on.
For those who underestimate women’s political instincts, judge them to be lightweights when it comes to their political savvy, or even claim that women vote for a candidate for superficial reasons, this presidential election year showed that a Colgate smile, a twinkling eye and an actual film career were not enough to win the ladies over. Less than 50% of women voted for Ronald Reagan despite his leading-man looks. In fact, women were pretty split between Reagan and the Democratic incumbent President, Jimmy Carter, who received 45% of the female vote. It seems to me that women were actually taking the time to think about the issues and trying to determine who would be best for the country. On the other hand, 54% of men voted for Reagan. Could it be that Reagan’s cowboy-swagger-gun-on-hip film persona spoke to the little boy in every man?
This is the only year where women’s political sense was a bit off but this is totally understandable. This was Morning in America after all. A recovery period after the severe recession in the early ’80’s. Americans, men and women, were led to believe that this recovery was the result of Reagan’s economic policies and not due to the natural upswing of the economic cycle. Americans did not yet know that George H.W. Bush’s characterization of Reagan’s economic policies as “voodo economics” (back in the 1980 Republican presidential nomination race) would be spot on. This was also long before the 99% realized that the only thing that trickles down in trickle-down economics (also known as Reaganomics) is bullshit. Paul Krugman (an economic god as far as I’m concerned) said it best back in 2008, “For it [Reaganomics] did fail. The Reagan economy was a one-hit wonder. Yes, there was a boom in the mid-1980s, as the economy recovered from a severe recession. But while the rich got much richer, there was little sustained economic improvement for most Americans. By the late 1980s, middle-class incomes were barely higher than they had been a decade before — and the poverty rate had actually risen.”
In this election, once again women were pretty split over their choice: 50% voting for George H.W. Bush, 49% for Michael Dukakis. Men, in the meantime, continued to overwhelmingly support the Republican candidate: 57% Bush, 41% Dukakis.
While Clinton was a virtual unknown in the national scene, more women than men still voted for him. When at the start of his presidential campaign Clinton declared, “The Reagan-Bush years have exalted private gain over public obligation, special interests over the common good, wealth and fame over work and family. The 1980s ushered in a Gilded Age of greed and selfishness, of irresponsibility and excess, and of neglect,” women listened, and they seemed to wake up faster than men to the consequences of 12 years of Republican leadership and Reaganomics. Bush received 37% of the women’s vote, 8% points less than Clinton. Men were more closely split, 38% for Bush, only 3% points less than Clinton.
The biggest gender gap (11%) occurred in this election. I still don’t understand why men were not as inclined as women to vote for Clinton during a period of obvious prosperity. Since 1994 until 2000 unemployment was below 5%, inflation was under control, and real output increased. Men—who can understand them?
This is where women’s superior intelligence and political acumen are most evident. Only 43% of women voted for Bush while 54% voted for Al Gore. I won’t go into a long discussion of Bush’s disastrous presidency, we all know the facts. But let’s take a moment to imagine what a Gore presidency would have meant to the world and to our country: for starters, no war in Iraq, a smaller deficit (less wars, no tax cuts for the very rich), a worldwide effort to control global warming.
The men? 53% voted for Bush (this time perhaps due to a real cowboy-induced fantasy) and only 42% voted for Gore.
While men continued to overwhelmingly support Bush, women knew better than to be manipulated by this administration’s fear mongering in its rush to invade Iraq in 2003. Most of them, 51%, would give their vote to Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry.
2008: Barack Obama Women: 56% Men: 49% Gap: 7 pts
2012: Barack Obama Women: 56% Men: 44% Gap: 12 pts
Update: In both 2008 and 2012, women overwhelmingly voted for Barack Obama. Furthermore, according to Gallup, “President Barack Obama won the two-party vote among female voters in the 2012 election by 12 points, 56% to 44%, over Republican challenger Mitt Romney. Meanwhile, Romney won among men by an eight-point margin, 54% to 46%. That total 20-point gender gap is the largest Gallup has measured in a presidential election since it began compiling the vote by major subgroups in 1952.”
Women and politics: For 32 years, in the period from 1980 to 2012, we have shown an uncanny political ability to judge presidential candidates. Call it female intuition, or a sixth sense, or perhaps it’s some kind of bullshit detector handed down from generations of our female ancestors who spent a considerable amount of time and effort dealing with cheating husbands. As much as we might admire Bill Clinton today, how many of us believed him when we watched him say “I did not have sexual relations with that woman—Monica Lewinsky.” Not many, I would bet.
So ok, we’re smarter, but does it count? In 2010, women represented 50.8% of the U.S. population but only held 17% of the seats in the 112th Congress—90 out of 535 to be exact, 17 in the Senate and 73 in the House of Representatives. Is it any wonder that 91% of Americans disapprove of Congress? The next step is obvious: elect more women to Congress and start cleaning House.