Articles and Analysis


The Marriage & Gender Gaps

Some of the press interest in targeting women voters appears to have died down some in the weeks since Hillary Clinton's exit from the race.  It's worth checking in to see how the overall gender patterns in Obama's vote compare to previous Democratic nominees. 


The Marriage Gap


Last week Women's Voices Women Vote Action Fund came out with a survey of unmarried women in battleground states (WVWV is a non-partisan organization; their surveys are typically conducted by Democratic polling firms).  As we've noted before, "unmarried" people can be in many varied stages of life--the single and college-aged, co-habitating couples in their late 20s, single parents, gay couples in a committed relationship, divorced baby boomers, older widows and widowers.  Such diversity makes me wonder about studying "unmarried" voters as a group.  Is the implication that non-marriage is somehow unifying?  Or does non-marriage frequently (but not always) co-vary with more dominant characteristics when it comes to predicting voting behavior, such as being younger, downscale, or more transient?  If it's the latter, then maybe we should be studying those other demographic variables instead.


I've written before here and here about the "marriage gap in turnout" that, despite the lopsided press coverage, is actually larger among men than among women.  I continue to worry about singling out a "marriage gap" in Democratic performance among women, leading some to think it a uniquely female phenomenon.  For one, it sends a message that women form their political views based on their relationships to others.  The "Soccer Moms" of yesteryear have given way to the "Carrie" voters of today; we are led to believe the presence or absence of husbands and/or children changes the way women (rather than men) view their worlds.  One blogger immediately seized on the recent poll results with: "why is it that women change their party registration with their marriage license?"


Second, and most importantly, the marriage gap is actually not uniquely female.  Recent Gallup research on the presidential race shows a marriage gap across gender, in the chart below.  For both men and women, unmarried voters are more Democratic than are their married counterparts.  In fact, as the chart below shows, the marriage gap in Democratic performance has frequently been larger for men than for women.  (We used a definition of the marriage gap that is consistent with the definition of the gender gap.  Here, it is the difference between unmarried and married voters' support for Obama.)



  post bo marriage gap.jpg 


Further, Obama's marriage gap, even across gender, is consistent with past elections.  WVWV's own materials show a similar pattern in the 2004 presidential race and 2006 midterm elections.  The table below averages the marriage gap from the Gallup poll and compares it to past exit polls. 


marriage gap/men

marriage gap/wmn

2004 exit polls



2006 exit polls



2008 gallup (average)




So the marriage gap is not a female-specific phenomenon.  Further, Obama's marriage gap is consistent with what we've seen in the past.


The Gender Gap


Gallup's weekly tracking also allows us to monitor the overall gender gap.  Since June, Obama's gender gap has widened slightly. 



post bo gender gap.jpg 


But either at its low end or high end, Obama's gender gap falls in the range established in recent elections.  The chart below shows the gender gap from every presidential race since 1980, plus the 2006 midterm elections (using national exit polls). 


  post gender gap old.jpg 


 We obviously still have a ways to go until November.  But what strikes me about Obama's marriage gap, the gender gap, and this post on Obama's performance with white women, is how similar they all are to previous elections.  Despite this election being historic, a pure open seat, and during both wartime and economic crisis, Obama's performance in many ways resembles the typical, contested elections of recent years.




Good food for thought. A few remarks, however:

Marriage Gap - Marriage status as a binary attribute ('married vs. not married') is a mishmash conglomerate of so many different attributes that it shouldn't be taken seriously.
It may appear to be quite consistent over time. I'd suggest we'd rather try to get more relevant data about the multiple subgroups that constitute the 'two demographic groups'.
Two of the larger subgroups of unmarried people are those who never were married (usually younger than the median citizen) and those widowed (usually older, and more often female). Since the base numbers only vary very slowly it doesn't appear too miraculous that the conglomerate seems to be consistent.
Thus the concept is deeply flawed: the stuff that pundit dreams are made of.

Gender Gap - Margie writes: "Since June, Obama's gender gap has widened slightly." I'm slightly amused about this understatement. According to the Gallup numbers she quotes the gap has actually doubled,, and it reached an almost historical high water mark: 10 points as compared to 11 in 1996.

"Obama's performance in many ways resembles the typical, contested elections of recent years." - Well at least I didn't expect an earthquake as an opener for the more dramatic events to come...


Do we know if the increase in the gap over the last few weeks is because more women than men are moving towards Obama, or because more men than women are moving away?

As for -

"Some of the press interest in targeting women voters appears to have died down some in the weeks since Hillary Clinton's exit from the race. "

I don't see how that's possible. I don't know what sources you've been reading, but I was scouring the web for analysis of women voters and the impact of gender on voting behavior and I saw very, very little. I saw plenty of analysis of race and the purported Bradley effect, I saw plenty of people working from the assumption that the only reason one would vote for Hillary over Obama was racism, and I saw plenty of people asserting that the only reason women voted for Hillary was because she was a woman, or because she "cried" - but never with any data to back it up.

I did not see any analysis of male voters who didn't support Hillary, and certainly not from the perspective that this behavior was pathological. And I found only one item that looked at the impact of attitudes toward gender on voting behavior; that was an academic paper that received no coverage here or anywhere else as far as I could tell.

In fact, I remarked many times here and elsewhere that after NH, it seemed as if gender had become a taboo subject for serious analysis - to be mentioned fleetingly if at all.

So if I've missed something good, please share, because I"m interested. The items you link to here were written in 2007 and January 2008. I found an additional item from February and that's it. But maybe I'm not searching correctly.

If anything, there has been more coverage of the gender gap in the last six weeks. I can think of several reasons for this.


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