Saturday, October 24, 2009

Gender Gap or Gender Deficit in 2012?

For the last few months FHQ has been pointing to an interesting trend in the (admittedly very) early presidential general election trial heats for 2012.* Sarah Palin is faring worse or worst among women against Obama than are her male counterparts (among the small list of prospective Republicans who have been polled against Obama with 2012 in mind). This is curious. There have been pronounced gender differences in vote choice that has varied since around the 1980 election.

More often than not this appears in the form of women supporting Democratic candidates while male votes opt for the Republican alternatives. That partisan angle has certainly been debated within the political science literature, though. Chaney, Alvarez and Nagler (1998--gated), for instance, found evidence that this was not solely a partisan divide but an incumbent/anti-incumbent divide with women being more likely to vote against an incumbent. But we certainly hear more about the fluctuations from presidential election to presidential election in partisan terms: how the gap was lower in 2004 because of so-called "security moms"** and greater again in 2008.

Regardless, the gap puts the Republican Party at something of a disadvantage in some elections more than others. One way the party could hypothetically combat the issue is to run female candidates. Now, we've certainly seen more of this in down-ballot races as opposed to presidential contests. After all, Sarah Palin was just the second woman on a presidential ticket in 2008 and the first Republican. But there's a problem there and McCain campaign manager, Rick Davis, picked up on this. He bemoaned the lack of women running within the party in his comments here at Wake Forest a couple of weeks ago.

Still, the expectation is that if Republicans are able to run women, they'll be able to reduce the, what I'm calling here, total gender deficit*** to some extent (depending upon the gender of their opponent and other state level or national factors). But that hasn't been the case in the 2012 presidential general election polling to date. Sarah Palin has, again, done worse with women against Obama than have her male counterparts.

Let's look at the numbers from the most recent Public Policy Polling survey on the matter (I will at some point in the future aggregate the gender numbers across all the polls where the data is publicly available.). There's clearly a divide between...

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...and nationally unknown Pawlenty on the one hand...
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and Huckabee...
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...and Romney on the the other.
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We can set Tim Pawlenty to the side for the moment. He just isn't a known quantity at this point in the game and that really affects his numbers among both women and men. 20% of each responded "not sure" when he was polled against Obama. [But who am I to deprive you of a glance at the figure?] So, let's consider Palin against Huckabee and Romney. The real discrepancy between them isn't the support among women, but that Romney and Huckabee are tied or slightly ahead among men, while Palin lags. Palin is in the same ballpark as Romney and Huckabee against Obama among women (They are all within 5 points of each other.), but again, the surprising thing is that she isn't doing MUCH better with that demographic. And while still in the same vicinity of Romney and Huckabee, she is still bringing up the rear with women voters.

Of course, when we consider the gender gap as it is traditionally measured -- the distance between the winning candidate's share of the vote among men and women -- Palin doesn't do all that poorly. In fact, she ties with Mitt Romney for having the lowest gender gap, while Mike Huckabee maintains the largest gap. The former Arkansas governor's gap is largely attributable to the fact that he loses to Obama with women but beats the president with men.

In the end, the difference between Sarah Palin (new vice presidential nominee) 2008 and Sarah Palin (ex-Alaska governor) 2009 among women is the difference between night and day. She has gone from making a huge difference for the McCain campaign with women (again, see Rick Davis' comments) to trailing among the demographic in hypothetical 2012 match ups with her at the top of the ticket.

UPDATE: Jack raises a great point in the comments. These numbers are a bit quirky because the expectation is that the GOP advantage among men would offset the advantage Democrats have with women. Here, though, only Huckabee is ahead among men. What that means is that there is something of a line to be drawn between the traditional gender gap and what I'm calling the total gender gap here. In this case, it should probably be called the total gender deficit. Here's a more traditional gender gap picture from Gallup in February 2008: a classic McCain vs. Clinton/Obama example. Obama and Clinton were relatively similar among women relative to McCain but the difference was in men. The way I'm calculating this deficit would have had Obama at -1 relative to McCain and Clinton at -9. To some extent this assumes that there is near equal parity between male and female voters in the electorate. I'll have to check on that.

*Again, these are (way too) early polls, and we here at FHQ would normally hold off on putting too much stock in them. However, the consistency of this result in poll after poll leads us to believe there is something to it.

**Of course, the security mom explanation was just one of convenience. There was little to no proof that members of that particular group weren't Bush supporters already. That the gender gap was smaller in 2000 and 2004 may indicate that women comprise many of the undecided swing voters that break evenly among the two major party candidates in a close election.

***The total gender deficit is calculated by adding the difference between President Obama and his prospective Republican opponents among men and women. While the traditional gender gap is relatively similar across the field of Republicans (within a range of 4 to 8 points), that doesn't give us an indication of the discrepancy between how much one gender group is offsetting the other between the parties. Looking at the exit polls from the 2008 election Obama won 56% of women to McCain's 43%. Meanwhile the president edged the Arizona senator by one point (49-48) among men. Obama, then, enjoyed a 7 point gender gap and a 14 point total gender deficit.

Recent Posts:
FHQ Friday Fun: One from the Left/One from the Right

Reminder: Democratic Change Commission Meets Tomorrow in Washington

PPP's 2012 Presidential General Election Trial Heats In-Depth


Jack said...

I'm confused. Why are you adding the differences in support between men and women? Shouldn't you subtract? So if Palin's down 17 among women and 8 among men, isn't that a 9-point gender gap?

Josh Putnam said...

Good point Jack. I need to make a clearer distinction between the gender gap you describe and the "total gender gap" I've constructed here. The main point is that one at the conclusion: that male support is offsetting the loss among women (or at least neutral) for Huckabee and Romney, but is not in Palin's case.

I'll get that fixed as soon as I'm done with this Change Commission post I'm working on.


astrojob said...

I'm with Jack. I don't quite get what is the point of calling this a "gender gap". It's just showing that Palin is more unpopular with all voters than Huckabee and Romney. Gender doesn't have anything to do with it.

If you had a case where Candidate A was tied with Candidate B among men, but led Candidate B by 40 points among women, I'd call that a 40 point gender gap. But if Candidate A led Candidate B by 40 points among both men *and* women, I'd say that there was no gender gap, as both men and women had the same opinions of the two candidates. In the latter case, Candidate B is really *really* unpopular, more so than in the former case, but there is no differential in the candidates' popularity between men and women, so no gender gap.

Josh Putnam said...

I think you make a solid point here. This still seems like more of a semantics issue, but it is definitely worth addressing for the clarity of the post.

The way the gender gap is typically calculated, you simply take the share of the male vote the winning candidate had and subtract the share the winning candidate had among women.

Given the 2008 exit polls, Obama enjoyed a 7 point gender gap. Now, if we expand that to the data here, Huckabee has the highest gender gap while Romney and Palin tie for the lowest (a 4 points). Of course, that masks the extent to which they are trailing Obama and that was what I was attempting to show with the "deficit".

I'll clean up the figures so they are clearer on this point and get that (re-)posted some time during the day. Thanks for the comments guys. This will be a better post because of it.

Jack said...

Not really sure if the measure, as currently described is of any value. It will correlate almost exactly with the actual total deficit, except as if there's a 50-50 gender split in the electorate rather than, say, 53-47. To prove that Republicans' advantage among men doesn't offset the disadvantage among women, one can more accurately look at the total deficit in the polls rather than use this measure.

Josh Putnam said...

I'll concede that you may be correct in an overall sense, but I still think that this measure is somewhat useful in this particular case with Palin. Yes, I agree with Mystery Politico earlier that this merely mimics the general trend in the poll itself, but in this case, the fact that Palin is behind among women is still something of a surprising result. And it isn't offset by anything.

More than anything, it is another way of looking at the overall horse race, but through the lens of the gender divide.

Josh Putnam said...

I do like the horizontal bars better than the vertical ones.

Agree/disagree (for those that witnessed the before and after)?