Just two weeks before Election Day, the Independent Women’s Forum assembled a group of distinguished analysts to discuss the “gender gap” and why the female vote has become such an important topic for election watchers.

The event, which was part of IWF’s annual National Advisory Board meeting, was held at the Mayflower Hotel to a standing room-only crowd.

The event, which was part of IWF’s annual National Advisory Board meeting, was held at the Mayflower Hotel to a standing room-only crowd.

The event, which was part of IWF’s annual National Advisory Board meeting, was held at the Mayflower Hotel to a standing room-only crowd.

The event, which was part of IWF’s annual National Advisory Board meeting, was held at the Mayflower Hotel to a standing room-only crowd.

Charlotte Hays
Editor, The Women’s Quarterly

Women do vote differently from men. The gender gap exists, but it’s not that simple. It obscures certain subtleties in the way women vote. Married women and single women, for example, generally vote differently. We do not vote as a monolith; therefore, a lot of what you hear about the gender gap is pure spin.

The Independent Women’s Forum was founded to combat that sort of spin. The IWF began in 1992 in the wake of the Clarence Thomas hearings, when it was felt that certain feminist activists, who were claiming to speak for all women, did not speak for women like us. In fact, they didn’t speak for the majority of American women. The time was ripe for independent-minded women to challenge the received, but not necessarily true, wisdom.

Karlyn Bowman
Resident Fellow, The American Enterprise Institute

Gender differences in our politics are real, and the gender gap is now a permanent feature of American politics-although this wasn’t always the case. Prior to the 1970s, political scientists who studied elections assumed that social and economic forces would affect men and women in the same way, and for that reason, they would vote similarly.

But today we pay more attention to the female rather than the male side of the gender gap, in part because women are a larger share of the population. In some elections in recent years women have cast more than 55% of the ballots.

The most important issue that contributes to the differences we see in male and female voting patterns is the proper role for government.

In late September and early October, ABC News and Washington Post pollsters asked this question: Would you say you favor a smaller government with fewer services or a larger government with more services? Of the men, 70% favored a smaller government with fewer services, but only 48% of women did.

That’s a chasm in terms of voting patterns.

William Kristol
Political Analyst and Editor, The Weekly Standard

Women are generally more liberal than men in contemporary America by a few percent-age points, not by a massive gulf, but by a few points. People treat this as some horrible problem-a blemish on our country that there’s a gender gap. Perhaps it’s fine if there is a gender gap. Given that, presumably, women and men have somewhat different life experiences, socioeconomic concerns, and also different psychological and sociological experiences, it is not a surprise that the gender gap has revealed itself. In a way, it is amazing that for years of voting, there wasn’t one.

It’s no surprise that the gender gap opened up in the 1970s because of feminism and various changes in society, ranging from divorce and single motherhood to women coming into the workforce in much greater numbers.

Karlyn Bowman described how women tend to be slightly more conservative — that’s conservative with a small “c” — than men. They are more risk averse, more suspicious of change. The political fights over the last 20 years have been such that conservatives with a capital “C” are Republicans who have been arguing for change. Ronald Reagan was not a conservative with a small “c” wanting to continue with current policies, nor were Republicans in 1994. This was the party seeking to reform the welfare state, the party calling the Soviet Union an evil empire while building up our defenses for the ultimate sake of peace. If you are a conservative with a small “c,” you may get a little worried about these radical changes.

I don’t think the gender gap is particularly serious. It is a fact of contemporary life, and I don’t expect it to go away.

Also, I think it will continue because it is part of a broader phenomenon-the decline of class distinctions in the late 20th century and, consequently, the rise of other forms of differences in our society. Marx turned out to be wrong and De Tocqueville and Freud and all kinds of other people turned out to be right. Which is to say that sociological differences and psychological differences have become increasingly more salient over the last 25 to 30 years, and old-fashioned class differences have turned out to be less salient.

For example, the family gap is bigger than the gender gap. There is a clear difference in the voting patterns of single women and married women. Bigger still than the family gap is the religion gap. The election in 1994 was the first since the New Deal where churchgoing, or religiosity, was a better predictor of the vote than economic class. Other issues, and not the distinctions between workers and management, have become better indicators of voting patterns.

So, the rise of the gender gap is part of a broader phenomenon of a decline in pure class and the rise of other distinctions in American society which, again, is neither a good thing nor a bad thing.

Ed Goeas
Political Pollster and President, The Tarrance Group

There is one thing that I think is extremely offensive about the gender gap — the way some analysts talk about women, the female vote, as a monolithic group. Quite frankly, men are much more monolithic: Their spectrum of ideological extremes is not nearly as broad as the female vote. When certain politicians start applying labels that haven’t been proven over time-like the soccer mom label-as a pollster I ask them to define for me the demographic group. Usually they cannot.

There are, however, some differences that we have noted over the years. First of all, if you ask men whether government is part of the problem or part of the solution, by almost 20 points men say government is part of the problem. If you ask women the same question, by a small plurality women say that government is part of the solution.

Furthermore, if you ask men about the main problem they deal with in their personal life, the number one answer is: Being able to save enough money for retirement. Their feeling is: You go to school, you get a degree, you get a job, you work, and what you are striving for is to be able to retire. And every time the government reaches its hand into your pocket, it is taking away days and years from your ability to retire the way you want to.

Now, if you ask the same question of women, the number-one response is that they worry about having enough time and energy to get through their daily lives.

We did a study recently where we asked women if they had a choice between working the hours they now work and making more money, or getting their current salary but working fewer hours, and by two to one, women chose the latter. They’d rather make what they’re making now, but work fewer hours. They feel as much time-squeezed as economically squeezed, because they need time and energy to get through their daily lives.

Women are taking care of things at home, they’re taking care of things at work, and they want help.