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Jewish World Review June 16, 2000 / 13 Sivan, 5760

Mona Charen

Mona Charen
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Goodbye to the 'gender gap'? --
The Women's Quarterly, the sharp and lively publication of the Independent Women's Forum, is always entertaining and enlightening. It's the only place to find out why some liberal men have a thing for conservative women (Christopher Hitchens loved Maggie Thatcher!), why some perfectly proper matrons lament the passing of the wolf whistle and how mothers are different from fathers.

It is also, this quarter, the place to deepen an understanding of the gender gap.

First, does it exist? As editor Charlotte Hays explains, the gender gap does exist. But everything about it -- including its name -- is a case of successful spin by liberals and feminists.

Studying voting patterns after the 1980 election, Eleanor Smeal, then president of the National Organization for Women, saw an opportunity. While most analysts noted that women divided their votes almost evenly for Carter (45 percent) and Reagan (46 percent), Smeal highlighted the difference between men and women. Fifty-four percent of men voted for Reagan, while only 46 of women did. Voila, an eight point gap and a potential women's voting bloc. By the following year, NOW was trumpeting "Reagan's Female Problem" and soon adopted the term "gender gap," which the liberal media then solemnized.

But right from the beginning, an obvious point went largely unremarked -- that if the Republicans had trouble getting women to vote for them, Democrats had complementary problems with men. Between 1952 and 1998, the number of men who identified themselves as Democrats declined from 59 percent to 49 percent. During that same period, the number of women who chose the Democrat label declined as well, but less dramatically, from 58 to 54 percent.

Only in a universe occupied principally by liberals (i.e. medialand) would such a dramatic loss of support by one party be widely reported only as damaging the other party. In the course of inquiring into the problems Democrats are having holding men's loyalty, it might be worth mentioning that Republicans have trouble appealing to women. But to report the gender gap as going only one way is extraordinary!

Hays argues that it's a mistake for Republicans to bow and scrape in the direction of so-called women's issues in order to bridge the gap. Ronald Reagan, after all, won twice -- the first time with the same size gender gap that Bob Dole endured in the 1996 race. And on the signature women's issues -- abortion, breast cancer research funding, and spousal abuse -- there is no gender gap. Though the feminists do their best to obscure this, abortion is not a key issue for most women voters, and to the degree that it is, they tend to be two-to-one anti-abortion.

OK, but why have more women than men voted for every Democratic presidential candidate since 1980? The gender gap, Hays and others argue, is actually a measure of dependence on government. In 1996, Clinton beat Dole 54 to 38 among women in general, but only 48 to 43 percent among married women. Sixty-two percent of unmarried women voted for Clinton.

According to recent polls, George Bush is beating Al Gore among white mothers by 55 to 37 percent. But the pattern of single women going Democratic persists. White women over the age of 65 are leaning to Gore by 49 to 40 percent. Among black women, Gore beats Bush by 84 to 5 percent. Single women of all ages tend to support Democrats because they feel vulnerable and want the government to provide security.

"If you ask the question, 'Is government part of the problem or part of the solution?'" pollster Ed Goeas notes, "the majority of men say that it's part of the problem and a plurality of women say it's part of the solution."

George W. Bush is never going to convince large numbers of single women voters that he is more in favor of big government than Al Gore. Nor should he. But he can expect to win a much larger chunk of the married vote than Dole was able to garner simply by running a competent campaign.

The stakes in this election are very high. The party that wins the presidency will probably win the House as well and control the federal judiciary for a generation. Bush's job is to make married women -- the backbone of the nation -- understand that.

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© 2000, Creators Syndicate