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Gender Gaps

By Ron Faucheux

The gender gap first appeared in modern presidential elections 32 years ago.

In 1976, three years after the Roe vs. Wade abortion decision, Democrat Jimmy Carter won both women and men by an identical 2 points. Then, in 1980, something happened: Republican Ronald Reagan carried women by 2 points and men by a much wider 19 points, for a 17-point gender gap. In Reagan's 1984 landslide, he won both sexes: women by 12 points and men by 25 points, for a 13-point gap.

George H.W. Bush was the last Republican to carry both women and men in a national election. He was elected in 1988 with a one-point advantage among women and a 16-point advantage among men, for a 15-point gap. Four years later, Bush lost women to Bill Clinton by 8 points and men by 3 points for a modest 5-point gender gap.

The gap reappeared in force in 1996, when Clinton won women by 16 points and lost men by one point, for a 17-point gap. In 2000, the gender differential expanded: Republican George W. Bush lost women by 11 points and won men by 11 points, for a 22-point gap, the widest in modern times. Winning re-election in 2004, Bush improved his standing among females, losing women by only 3 points and winning men by the same 11 points, narrowing the gender gap to 14 points.

In 2008, Barack Obama was the first Democrat in 16 years to win both sexes, carrying women by 13 points and men by one point, for a 12-point gap. In 2012, Obama won re-election with an 11-point margin among women and losing men by 7 points, for an 18-point gap.

Since 1980, the average gender gap nationwide has been 15 points.

This year in Ohio, Obama beat Mitt Romney by 11 points among women and lost men by 7 points among men, producing the same 18-point gender gap in this critical swing state as in the nation as a whole. In both Virginia and Florida, the gap was 13 points. In Iowa, it was 19 points and in New Hampshire it hit 20 points. 

Obama won women and lost men in every swing state except Colorado. In Colorado this year, Obama actually did better among men, winning them by 5 points, than women, winning them by 2 points, a narrow 2-point gender gap. Four years before, Colorado had a 16-point gender gap, with Obama winning women by 15 points and losing men by one point.

In the one swing state that Obama lost--North Carolina--the gender gap was 11 points, with Romney making up for his narrow 2-point deficit among women with a 9-point lead among men.

Read more of Ron Faucheux's election analysis.