Women Are Not a Unified Voting Bloc

Based on the exit polls, race and ethnicity are a better predictor of candidate preference than gender.

Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

Of all the big winners on Election Day, one of the biggest may have been a concept: the gender gap in American politics.

From President Barack Obama's 11-point edge with women over Mitt Romney in exit polls to Republicans losing two senate seats over troubling statements about rape, 2012 seemed to further the idea that gender is the leading definer of Democratic voters: double x marks the spot.

But lumping more than 50 percent of the population into a group and talking about it as a single unit can oversimplify things a lot. Go deeper into the 2012 exit poll numbers to look at the women's vote and picture begins to change.

To be clear, the gender gap in America is not a myth—the numbers show it's real—but it's also very complicated. It can grow or shrink depending on a host of factors: race, age, marital status, even geography.

Let's start with one of the biggest story lines of 2012: that the gender gap was an epic problem for Romney and the GOP in general. It started when the Republican primaries featured conversations about the morality of birth control, which ended up inspiring a tidal wave of women to push Obama over the top.

When everything was tallied from 2012 this turned out not to be true. This year's 11-point margin was big, but it wasn't bigger than it was four years ago. According to the exit polls, the margin was actually bigger in 2008—13 percentage points. Obama won women 56 percent to 43 percent in 2008. He won them 55 percent to 44 percent on Tuesday.

More important in the gender gap discussion is how the significance of the gender gap is relative to the population you are looking at as a whole.

For instance, in the 2012 exits Obama did better with white women than with white men—seven percentage points better—but that's smaller than the 11-point divide in the electorate as a whole. And overall Obama still lost white women. The president captured only 42 percent of the white women's vote, Romney captured 56 percent of it. So, white women actually were an area of strength for Romney.

Obama gets a huge edge when you shift to look at black women or Hispanic women. He won 96 percent and 76 percent of their votes respectively. That's even better than Obama did with black men and Hispanic men.

The point? Obama, and Democrats in general, consistently do better with women than men when you compare voters within a racial or ethnic group. That's the "gap." But simply grouping all women together and thinking they are reliably Democratic is wrong. If you were to list gender and racial/ethnic groups by their Democratic vote on Tuesday, the list would go like this: black women (96 percent), black men (87 percent), Hispanic women (76 percent), Hispanic men (65 percent), white women (42 percent) and white men (35 percent).

Presented by

Dante Chinni is director of the Jefferson Institute's Patchwork Nation project and co-author of the book Our Patchwork Nation.

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