By MEGAN THEE-BRENAN and JANET ELDER
Published: September 20, 2010
It is not exactly the year of the angry man, but it may be something close to that. A recent New York Times/CBS News poll found a striking difference in the way men and women say they are going to vote come November.
Men say they are going to vote for the Republican candidate rather than the Democratic candidate in their district by a margin of 45 percent to 32 percent. The numbers are nearly reversed for women with 36 percent saying they will vote Republican and 43 percent saying they will vote Democratic.
Ever since 1980, when Ronald Reagan inspired more men than women, the difference in the way the sexes vote has been a critical part of American politics. Women have been more likely than men to favor Democratic candidates, an advantage Democrats have come to count on. Women also historically outnumber men when it comes to showing up at the polls.
But this year may be different. Even though women are still more likely to vote Democratic, the poll suggests they may stay home this year, giving more of the decision-making to men by default.
So far in this election, women are not nearly as attentive as men and express less enthusiasm about voting, the poll found. Men are more likely than women to fall into the category of voters who say they are paying a lot of attention to the campaign right now. They are also more likely than women to say they are more enthusiastic about voting in this congressional election than they remember being in past mid-terms elections.
The poll suggests that men are angrier than women, and that their anger may be more motivating than the sense of hopelessness expressed by women, particularly on economic issues.
“I’m confused as who to vote for,” said one of the poll respondents, Diana Rhoads of Hallam, Pa., a 59-year-old independent who voted for President Obama. “I just don’t know who I can count on to move us in the direction I’d like to see the country go. Frankly, the financial problems are beyond our understanding.”
The political divide between men and women was bridged in 2006 when a wave of anti-Republican sentiment swept the country. In that year, when Democrats took control of the House and Senate from the Republicans, women made up 52 percent of the electorate and voted for Democrats by a 56-44 percent margin. Men followed suit, supporting the Democrats by a 52-48 percent margin.
Mr. Obama captured the male vote in 2008, the first time a Democratic presidential candidate had done so since 1992.
But 2006 and 2008 may prove to be anomalies. Kathleen Dolan, a professor of political science at the University of Wisconsin, points out that “while the story of the gender gap has often been told through the lens of the outsized support women have for Democrats, the flip side is the outsized support men have for Republicans.”
She said that if men return this year to their historical tendency to vote Republican, it would undercut Democrats in the midterm election.
Times/CBS polls in the last six months have found pluralities of men identifying themselves as independents, while pluralities of women still say they are Democrats. Majorities of both men and women currently hold a negative view of the Republican party. Women, however, maintain their party loyalty and view the Democratic party positively.
While there is some doubt that the discouraged women will turn out to vote on Nov. 2 in the same numbers they historically do, that is not the only wild card this year. The question remains as to whether the men who voted Democratic in 2006 and 2008 will return reliably to the Republican party.
One such voter, Ray Barrow of Reston, Va., a 69-year-old independent who voted for Mr. Obama, said: “I’m enthusiastic about candidates that want to talk about fiscal conservatism. I am dissatisfied with the performance of both the president and the Democrat-controlled Congress. I’m going to vote for candidates who believe in fiscal conservatism and the right way to spend to create jobs.”
Marina Stefan contributed reporting.