Gender and the Democratic Primaries & Caucuses

For the moment, I’m trying not to think about gender dynamics in the Republican campaigns, primaries, and caucuses. Once it sunk to the level of seeing the relevance of the size of a man’s body bits – his hands and, well, you know — I want to think about more subtle gender matters. Suffice it to say it should not be surprising that women have not been as supportive of Donald Trump as men have, although he’s plenty popular in many circles with them, too.

Consider the simple gender differences in support for Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders in the exit and entrance polls displayed on the CNN website.  Click on the chart to see a readable version.

 Gender Polls

Some provisos in reading. These are exit and entrance polls. They should be pretty good for parsing out who did what in the primaries and caucuses, but certainly not perfect. Not every state with primaries and caucuses had polling. These polls were (obviously) not taken simultaneously, so they capture different moments.  Anyway:

There is a very consistent result: Men are more supportive of Bernie Sanders than women are (or women are less supportive than men are). Women are more supportive of Hillary Clinton than men are (or men are less supportive than women are).  The differences are not huge (or yuge)*. There is more overlap between women and men than difference. That is usually the case in public opinion. But the differences are pretty consistently worth noting and in many cases over 10 percentage points different, which is something campaigns should find notable. In 4 cases — Iowa, Massachusetts, Nevada, and Oklahoma — women and men gave the nod to a different candidate. If only women voted, Hillary Clinton would have won all of those states (she lost Oklahoma). If only men voted, Bernie Sanders would have won all of those states (he lost Iowa, Massachusetts, and Nevada).

But it’s not just about winning and losing; it’s also about what we can learn about the election dynamics and, in this case, the preferences of men and women who vote in Democratic primaries and caucuses. The existence, if not size, of gender differences in preferences for the two candidates is so consistent across the races where we have data. In some cases where men and women tipped to the same candidate, there is, nevertheless, a notable* gender difference, for example, arguably in Arkansas, Georgia, New Hampshire, South Carolina, Texas, and Virginia.

What’s up? It is easy enough to imagine that Hillary Clinton gets a boost from women who, other things equal, want to support a woman and help create the historic first female presidency. There is probably some of that, and this is probably how much of the press and pundit world would call it. But there are other possibilities and it is unwise and, many of us have argued, plain wrong to look at gender differences and assume men’s preferences are the norm and the explanation lies simply in how women are “different,” or that only women are responding to gender.

We might also hypothesize that if we consider the well-known negatives about Hillary Clinton and the residual sexism in the public (and plenty of experimental work continues to show that sexist prejudice and stereotype are still with us), that part of what is going on is that men are, at the margins, more antagonistic to Hillary Clinton the female candidate. (Yes, we know: women can be sexist, too.) It’s not so far fetched. Reading the scrolling comments after articles on the Democratic race, there are plenty of examples out there.

There could also be gender differences in reactions to the policy statements of the two candidates. It’s been a long time since anyone has found systematic evidence of men being more liberal or progressive than men, so it’s difficult to believe the difference has to do with the perceptions of Sanders as more left wing or liberal.  There are differences in their rhetoric about inequality and taking care of vulnerable people. Many people have noted that although Senator Sanders stands in support of gender and race equality, as he develops these themes he usually returns quickly to class and wealth equality. Secretary Clinton frames the problems differently, listing each of these more coequally as goals. She also has a well-known history a work on women’s issues and family and child policy. So these two candidates stand on the same side of equality issues — certainly, in a different universe from most of the candidates fighting for the Republican nomination, but the framing is different, and might strike women and men differently. More about this in a later post.

Of course, then there are the Bernie Bros and the Old Feminists, neither of which have worked as well as surrogates as they might hope. A lot of women (and their supporters) don’t want to be told (whether “mansplained” or not) that they should not be voting for a candidate only because she’s a woman. Until it is normal for women to make serious runs at the presidency, and sometimes win, that line is a flop.  (Former Vermont Governor Madeleine Kunin  has pointed out that Bernie Sanders made the same argument when he ran against her, when she became the first female governor of Vermont, the 8th in the nation to be sworn in, and the 4th who was not the wife or widow of a governor.)  On the other side, lecturing young women on their lack of historical memory of the struggles of women, or the places in hell reserved for those who don’t support women, does little but create anger and backlash.

But gender is an issue in the Democratic race. There have been some interesting flare-ups  between the supporters of the two candidates on gender issues in the comments sections that follow news articles on the race.

We can’t know more without better data and more in-depth analysis. It will certainly be worth the effort.

*(a footnote):  The methodology I use here is simple interocular examination. No significance testing, not attempt to be fancy.

P.S. After I wrote this, I ran across Kelly Ditmar and Glynda Carr’s Black Women Voters: By the Numbers. Worth reading and very related.     @VSapiro