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The race for the White House 2012: The gender gap

In the second video in our series examining the key issues in the US Presidential election Professor of Journalism, Suzanne Franks, discusses the role gender plays in deciding the victor and warns that cyclone Sandy may overshadow everything else.
by Ben Sawtell

In 2008 even though Obama won by a landslide his margin amongst men was only 1% compared with 13% amongst women voters. This issue of appealing to women voters came up at the second presidential TV debate. Mitt Romney made his notorious reference to 'binders full of women' which became an instant You Tube hit and can hardly have endeared him to the female electorate.

According to the polls only a couple of weeks ago, the gender gap in US voting patterns was at a historic high. So that if only women were voting on November 6th, President Obama would have been on track for a landslide re-election, equaling or exceeding his margin of victory over John McCain in 2008.

However, if only men were going to the polls Obama would have been facing a crushing defeat at the hands of Mitt Romney, who might win by a similar margin to the one Ronald Reagan realized over Jimmy Carter in 1980. 

Now as the race comes to the closing stages these figures appear to have shifted again. Romney has worked hard to tone down his social message and focus on the economy. So apparently this has in turn increased his appeal amongst women, on the basis that he is telling women that the best way to care for their family is through a strong economic recovery.

The appearance of a gender gap is nothing new in US politics. Ever since this was measured in 1972, women have tended to support the more socially liberal policies of the Democrats whilst men have backed the more economically conservative politics of the Republicans. Some commentators link this to the historic Supreme Court (Roe V Wade) decision supporting a Woman's Right to Choose in 1973, which has been a part of Democrat policy ever since.

Interestingly this same pattern has now emerged in UK voting. Historically women were more conservative and inclined to vote for the Tory party. The Labour party was associated with the male dominated Trade Union working class vote, but these voting patterns have now shifted. And as a result ever since the 1997 election, when Tony Blair's Labour government won with a landslide, women have been more progressive in their voting intentions and this has remained so, just as it is now in the USA.

In the current presidential election apparently women also take more liberal stances than men on a range of social issues from same-sex marriage to gun control. And the wider the ideological divergence between the candidates the bigger the gender gap is likely to become. Conversely, as the candidates compete for the middle ground then the gender gap too is likely to diminish, which is what may be happening in these latter stages of the campaign.

Yet in the coming days maybe all this will be overshadowed by the impact of the terrible storms that are lashing the East Coast. There is much speculation about the diverse political impact of the inclement weather - and what may be the symbolic meaning of the angry heavens?

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