01/17/2008 05:25 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

The Gender Gap Vanishing Act

The recent Pew poll of Democrats and Democratic-leaning registered voters nationwide finally provides us with some crosstabs of the Democratic presidential primary of gender by other demographic variables. We can now observe what I hypothesized last week from exit polls-the gender gap in the Clinton vs. Obama race can be substantially explained by other demographic variables. Age, socioeconomic status, and ideology may be driving the Democratic primary more than gender.

Overall, the Pew study shows that among Democrats, Clinton has a larger lead over Obama with women (+21) than she does with men (+5). The gender gap, defined as the gender difference in support for the winning candidate, is 8 points. The demographic breakouts are in the table below. (Pew surveyed 1515 adults, including 621 Democrats. We have no additional subgroup size information, nor have we performed significance testing.)


The gender gap almost disappears with older voters. Clinton has nearly the same large lead with older women (+26) as with older men (+21). However, among younger voters, she leads with women (+17) but trails with men (-9).

Socioeconomic status is a larger cleavage. The race is exactly the same with women in households earning over $50,000 as with their male cohorts (41% Clinton, 36% Obama). Clinton trails with college educated voters, regardless of gender (women: -3; men: -11).

But the most dramatic gender difference is along ideological fault lines. Obama leads with liberal women (+5 Obama), but trails with liberal men (+15 Clinton). Clinton has a strong lead with non-liberal women (+37 Clinton), but ties with non-liberal men.

These data suggest a few possibilities. First, ideology, socioeconomic status, and age are likely all more important drivers of the vote than gender. Second, there appears to be an interaction with ideology and gender. Of all the demographic groups of women examined, Obama does best with liberal women, and worst with non-liberal women.

This is not to say that the issue of Clinton's gender isn't important. But its importance is external; voters say others may respond differently to Clinton's gender. The same Pew study also shows more Democrats say Clinton's gender will hurt her if she is the nominee (34%) than say Obama's race will hurt him (29%). Similarly, more Democrats say Obama's race has not been a factor so far (57%) than say the same about Clinton's gender (38%).

I have been arguing this point here for a while. While the press continues to assume voters view Clinton through the lens of their own gender, perhaps it is the press's own lens that is clouded. At a minimum, we should recognize that gender patterns in the Democratic primary are more nuanced than the simplistic "Women Support Hillary" frame.