By Ghada Tafesh
As the Common Hour series continues with the theme of “Bridging the Gaps: Conversations about Inequality,” Dr. Jill Hummer presented “The Gender Gap and the 2016 Presidential Election” Nov. 1 in the John Stewart Memorial Library Learning Commons.
Gender gap is the difference between how men and women vote for candidates. Calculating the gap involves subtracting the percentage of men who vote for a particular candidate (usually the winning candidate) from the percentage of women who vote for the same candidate or vice versa.
In modern elections, the gender gap tends to be about an eight to ten percent difference between men and women. The 2016 second presidential exit polls showed a gap of 24%, more than double than past trends, making the 2016 Presidential election having the largest gender gap since the 1980s. Hummer stated, “Gender inequality has been a prominent theme in 2016. I think we will remember this election for this gap especially.”
Hummer looked at sex, race and college education as variables to break down this gap, highlighting that white college women, for the first time in history, are the driving force of this election. Based on public polling, 60% of women felt that Clinton (D) would use better judgement in a national/international crisis, would better empathize with people from different backgrounds, and would be a better candidate to represent issues pertaining to women, such as family leave, affordable childcare and debt-free college education.
“Interestingly,” Hummer stated, “white, educated college women, in particular, a republican constituency, are voting for Clinton in this election. The shift is remarkable and pronounced – white women are defecting from the Republican Party.” On the other hand, white men, with or without college education, are much more likely to vote for Donald Trump (R).
Social scientists are tempted to view this gap as a result of the candidates’ platforms on feminist policies and women’s issues, such as abortion and the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA). Hummer instead argues that, based on candidates’ internal polling, national defense, welfare and government spending for social services drive this gap based on the candidates’ internal polling. Hummer asserts, “Women tend to rank feminist issues higher than men, but, in terms of their actual support for these issues, there isn’t a significant difference to have mainly driven that big of a gender gap.”
While addressing men and women’s voting preferences, Hummer used the 1980 election to show a previous pronounced gender gap when Ronald Reagan (R), former Governor of California, ran against Jimmy Carter (D), President of the U.S. More women supported and voted for Reagan, the Republican nominee, as opposed to Carter, the Democratic nominee. In fact, rather than solely focusing on feminist issues, Reagan used social welfare and defense spending policies as strategies to win popularity among women.
However, men supported the Republican Party at a higher rate than women. Men defecting from the Democratic Party caused the 1980 gender gap; it was not necessarily a women-driven phenomenon. Hummer added, “Up until this election, looking at patterns across history, the story of the gender gap is about the story of men leaving the Democratic Party.” This makes the current defection of women from the Republican party all the more significant.
Hummer concluded her presentation emphasizing that while gender gap is intriguing, other issues, such as the race gap and voting behavior, are bigger. The definitive sources of the gender gap remain elusive, as it is hard to point out exactly how it manifested in 1980 or how it is affected in 2016. However, Hummer hopes to continue studying more data as the end of the election is nearing.