[Today's Guest Pollster's column comes from Margie Omero, President of Momentum Analysis, a Democratic polling firm based in Washington, DC.]
I posted last week about the "Single Anxious Female" moniker, and how coverage of this demographic group largely trivializes women. In fact, not only are women across marital status groups voting at a higher rate than men, this gender gap in turnout has existed for years, and is poised to widen further.
Census data here and here [2006 data found with this program] show that women have been turning out at higher rates than men in every Presidential election since 1980, and in every mid-term election since 1986. Not just raw numbers (there are more women than men, so even a lower turnout rate among women could still mean more women voters), but the percentage of adults who report voting. The graph below shows the difference between women and men's turnout rates (abbreviated as "women - men"). Note that the gap is more dramatic in Presidential years.
This pattern is not surprising. Not only have women been making societal gains in political influence, but women's educational attainment also increased dramatically during the same period. Again using census data, in the last mid-term election, for the first time more women than men had some college education (among adults 25 and older). This bodes well for a continued increase in women's turnout.
And despite the attention on young and/or single women not voting, it is younger women who comprise this gender gap in turnout. The table below shows 2004 turnout by age and gender. It is only among the oldest voters that men vote at a higher rate than women.
Naturally age and education are related. Younger women are more likely to have some college education than their male counterparts; the reverse is true among older men and women. But even within each education level (with one small exception), younger women are voting at a higher rate than younger men.
Looking at these numbers, I see a positive story not being told. The data suggest women's turnout will continue to increase, particularly in a Presidential year. And the gender gap in turnout is particularly large among younger voters, regardless of their level of education. But while women are becoming increasingly influential in elections, they are being told by the media their voting behavior is just another thing that requires improving. Surely there is a way to mobilize women and make their issues heard without hyperbole and finger-pointing. In a future post, I'll look at some of the assumptions made about why women aren't voting, and what the data really show.