Even before the polls closed on Tuesday night, the media had already prepared their analysis of the Virginia’s Governors race. The pro-life views of the Republican nominee resulted in a significant gender gap and doomed his chances. This media spin is frequent any time any Republican – especially a socially conservative Republican – fares poorly at polls. While this line of analysis is popular among Washington, DC pundits, it also fails to withstand serious empirical scrutiny.
It is true that Republican nominee Ken Cuccinelli fared less well among men than women. However, the gender gap was smaller than many predicted, Exit polls indicate that Cuccinelli won the support of 48 percent of men as opposed to 42 percent of women. However, a closer look at the demographics provides some interesting insights. White women backed Cuccinelli by a 54-38 margin. Similarly, married women backed Cuccinelli by a 51-42 margin. Obviously, Cuccinelli fared less well among single women and minority women. However, women are obviously a diverse demographic and some groups of women are very willing to support pro-life candidates.
More importantly, a substantial body of polling data shows that men and women have very similar attitudes about abortion. When survey research firms ask people if they describe themselves as either “pro-life” or “pro-choice” — the gender gap is less than 5 percentage points. Furthermore, there is also a significant amount of polling data which shows that women are actually more likely than men to support a range of incremental pro-life laws. Three separate national polls that were conducted this summer all showed that women were actually more likely than men to support at 20 week ban on abortions.
So why does the gender gap persist? For one thing, there is also a body of research which indicates that women have more liberal views on a range of economic issues. Furthermore attitudes on economic issues are often a better predictor of voting behavior than opinions on social issues. For instance, the CNN exit poll indicated Cuccinelli won the votes of 89 percent of people who strongly disapprove of Obamacare and only 3 percent of people who strongly support Obamacare. However, mainstream media pundits make little mention of this when analyzing the gender gap in U.S. Politics.
There are plenty of things that might have made the difference in a close campaign. A number of people felt that Cuccinelli should have responded more aggressively to Terry McAuliffe’s negative ads. Many argued that Cuccinelli should have resigned his position as Attorney General after receiving the Republican nomination for Governor. The Republican National Committee only spent $3 million on Cuccinelli – as opposed to the $9 million they spent on Republican Gubernatorial nominee Bob McDonnell in 2009. Indeed, more money and a different strategy might have well made a difference. However, there is little evidence to suggest that Cuccinelli’s pro-life position doomed his campaign.