Doctor Science Knows

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

The Gender Gap in Voting

Thinking vaguely through a political issue, again.

echidne of the snakes notes The Secret Demographic Topic in These Elections:
[quoting a Time poll:
Non-college-educated white women split virtually evenly, 46%-45% for McCain. By contrast, Obama remains weak among white men. That group supports McCain 57%-36% overall, and non-college-educated white men back the Republican ticket by an even greater margin, 63%-27%.
Do you know what I think? I think we can learn enormous amounts about the culture by asking why we don't discuss the voting patterns of white men.

I've been thinking about the voting gender gap: the fact that since about 1980 American women have been more likely to vote Democratic than men. Or that men are more likely to vote Republican, though it's usually not phrased that way.

This is a modern development. female conservatism was for many years a feature of voting behaviour in Europe and the United States. In Europe there is currently no particularly clear pattern -- in some countries women tend to be more conservative, in other countries it's men. Overall, there's a tendency for women to be risk-averse, which in many countries makes the average female voter slightly right of center.

All of the studies of the voting gender gap take male voters as the norm. But statistically, if there is universal adult suffrage *female* voters are expected to be the norm, because men have shorter lifespans and thus women will be more than 50% of adults.

If you assume female voters are normal, then what we've seen in the US looks like men moving rightward. Because men have disproportiate power, both major parties end up being toward the right. And that's just how it looks to our European friends: the US has one slightly-right-of-center party and one far-right party, but no significant leftist party by their standards.

I've just started reading "The Developmental Theory of the Gender Gap: Women and Men’s Voting Behavior in Global Perspective." by Pippa Norris and Ronald Inglehart. (pdf), and it looks as though their conclusion is that women are becoming more leftist than men in most post-industrial societies:
the modern gender gap is more strongly the product of cultural differences between women and men in their value orientations, especially attitudes towards postmaterialism and the women's movement...

in postindustrial societies the modern gender gap was strongest among the younger age groups while the traditional gender gap was evident among the elderly.
What it looks like to me is not so much women moving toward the left, but a pervasive and even growing sense of aggrieved entitlement among men (especially, in the US, white men), which is moving them toward the right, and dragging the mostly-male power structure with them.

In the US, at least, I think there's also something about war. War has become a distinctly conservative value, and a distinctly male value, in a way that wasn't necessarily the case historically. I tend to link this with subtractive masculinity, in which only sports and war are safely masculine endeavors, but there may be something else at work, too.

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