Politics

November 26, 2012

Should politicians focus more on men, less on women?

Despite all the talk of women's issues, elections show men have less party loyalty and are more likely to be swayed by a particular candidate.

Connie Cass / The Associated Press

WASHINGTON — Sorry, fellas, but President Barack Obama's re-election makes it official: Women can overrule men at the ballot box.

click image to enlarge

This Oct. 19, 2012 file photo shows thee audience, who were mostly women, listen behind President Barack Obama as he speaks about the choice facing women in the election during a campaign event at George Mason University in Fairfax, Va. Sorry, fellas, but President Barack Obama’s re-election makes it official: Women can overrule men at the ballot box. For the first time in research dating to 1952, the candidate whom the most men chose – Mitt Romney – lost. More women voted for the other guy. It’s surprising it didn’t happen sooner, since women have been voting in larger numbers than men for almost three decades, exit polls show. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh, File)

For the first time in research dating to 1952, a presidential candidate whom men chose decisively — Republican Mitt Romney — lost. More women voted for the other guy.

It's surprising it didn't happen sooner because women have been voting in larger numbers than men for almost three decades, exit polls show.

But men, who make up less than half the U.S. population, always have exercised power greater than their numbers and they aren't about to stop now.

When it comes to elections, males as a group are more influential because they show less party loyalty than women, who skew Democratic.

Despite all the focus on candidates courting Hispanics or the working class, men are the nation's ultimate swing voters; they're why Republican George W. Bush became president and Republican John McCain didn't.

Their move away from Obama this year expanded the voting "gender gap." It wasn't enough to determine the outcome, but came close.

So presidential hopefuls staring into the gender gap in 2016 might want to look beyond the usual controversies over "women's issues" such as abortion or the polling fads such as "Wal-Mart moms." Maybe it's time to pause and consider the fickle male. Maybe it's time to ask, "What do men want?"

In the voting booth, that is.

"I don't think we fully understand it yet," political scientist Christina Wolbrecht of the University of Notre Dame said about why men and women vote differently. But she said plenty of research on elections going back to the 1950s indicates it's not because of issues such as equal pay, birth control coverage in health plans or Romney's awkward reference to "binders full of women."

Paul Kellstedt has some ideas. A Texas A&M associate professor of political science, Kellstedt studies what American men and women want from their government and how that shifts over time.

Like Wolbrecht, he noted that the sexes aren't that different, at least when it comes to the issues.

Studies have found that the opinions that separate liberals and conservatives, even on issues such as abortion, don't divide the sexes much. Men and women are about as likely to fall on either side of those debates, and millions of each happily line up with each political party.

But there has been a consistent thread of disagreement for decades over what role the government should play. It's not a big gap, but it is statistically significant, about 4 percentage points or 5 points in many studies, Kellstedt said. As a group, women tend to like bigger government with more health and welfare programs; men lean toward smaller government that spends less, except on the military.

Sort of the social safety net versus rugged individualism. Or Obama versus Romney.

There are lots of possible reasons the genders see this differently.

Besides women's traditional role as family nurturers, they also live longer than men and so are more likely to rely on Social Security and Medicare. Women are more likely to be poor. They're more likely to be single parents struggling to pay for child care, education and medical bills. Men may feel many social programs are expensive and won't benefit them.

"Women tend to believe that government has a role to play, that it should be a partner in their life," said Democratic pollster Celinda Lake. "Men tend to think it's been a good day when the government hasn't done anything bad to you."

(Continued on page 2)

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