Gender gap issues polarize politics

The fundamental differences in political preferences that distinguish many men and women voters are hardly unique to late 20th century politics. Disputes over Prohibition fostered a pronounced ideological split between the sexes in 1919, when more than twice as many women supported measures outlawing the sale of alcohol than men.
Historically, men and women have differed in the policies they prefer, which in turn has led to disparate political leanings. In the past, both political parties seemed to present policy agendas that better captured variations in gender preferences. Ideological differences divided men and women voters within parties, but gender was not necessarily associated with party identification.
When men and women differ in the policies they prefer today, it often translates into partisan battles. A recent poll conducted by the Republican National Committee showed presidential candidate Bob Dole leading among men by a margin of 48 percent to 44 percent. Women, meanwhile, preferred to reelect President Clinton 60 percent to 31 percent. These numbers reflect the very different priorities men and women assign to their political choices. Gender seems to determine party affiliation.
Contrary to conventional wisdom this gap cannot be explained by women, who increasingly support Democratic candidates. Researchers say declining wages for male workers are causing a majority of men to support the political right. Men’s median annual earnings dropped 11.5 percent from 1979 to 1995, according to the Labor Department; earnings for women increased 6 percent. In contrast to women voters, men increasingly favor gutting welfare to stimulate the economy. And a majority of men remain more concerned about maintaining a strong national defense and establishing tougher crime laws than about protecting social programs.
More women are supporting Democratic candidates because these candidates are increasingly associated with preserving the welfare state and abortion rights. That is why pollsters say more women than men continue to stand behind Clinton, despite a scandalous parade of alleged financial mishaps and marital infidelity. Pollsters say women are predominantly more angry than men with Republican threats to cut Medicare. Women are also more likely than men to disapprove of GOP proposals to cut taxes as a means to address the nation’s ills.
Dole’s campaign team insists he is slowly diminishing the vast gender gap that he must overcome to win the presidency. His proposal for a tolerance statement in the GOP’s pro-life abortion plank was aimed at maintaining support among moderate, pro-choice Republicans — including millions of women voters. But profound political differences between men and women cannot be earnestly addressed in a matter of months. Meaningful disparities between the policy goals of men and women voters require the time and attentive deliberation granted to other equally combative issues that severely divide the electorate, such as race and class.