The Gender Gap in Voting: Setting the Record Straight

Media reports frequently confuse the women's vote and the gender gap, actually reporting on the women’s vote but calling it the gender gap. To clarify: the gender gap in voting is the difference between the proportions of women and men who support a given candidate, generally the leading or winning candidate. It is the gap between the genders, not within a gender. It is also not the aggregate of differences within both genders (e.g. women +10 Democrat and men +10 Republican ≠ 20 point gender gap). Here is how to calculate the gender gap in vote choice or preference:

[% Women for Leading or Winning Candidate] – [% Men for Leading or Winning Candidate] = Gender Gap

The women's vote describes the division in women’s support for major party candidates in any given race. It is the percentage-point advantage that one candidate has over the other among women voters – that is, the difference in women’s support for the Democratic and Republican candidates.

[% Women for Leading Party’s Candidate] – [% Women for Trailing Party’s Candidate] = Women's Vote

This distinction is important because even when women and men favor the same candidate, they usually do so by different margins, resulting in a gender gap.  For example, we frequently see a gender gaps even in races where the women’s vote breaks for the Republican - i.e., where more women voters prefer the Republican candidate than the Democratic candidate.

Why Women’s Votes Matter

  • Women vote in higher numbers than men and have done so in every election since 1964. In 2016, 9.9 million more women than men voted. Women have voted at higher rates than men since 1980. In 2016, 63.3% of eligible female adults went to the polls, compared to 59.3% of eligible male adults. Even in midterm elections, when voter turnout is lower among men and women, women vote in higher numbers and at higher rates than men.
  • More women than men register to vote. Some 83.8 million women were registered to vote in 2016, compared to 73.8 million men.
  • There has been a gender gap in every presidential election since 1980. In the 2016 election, men were 11 percentage points more likely than women to vote for Donald Trump (52% of men vs. 41% of women), according to the exit poll conducted by Edison Research. 
  • There also has been a gender gap in congressional voting in every recent midterm election. In 2014, there was a 10-point gender gap, with 58% of men compared to 48% of women voting for the Republican candidate in their district. In 2010 there was a 6-point gender gap, with 57% of men compared to 51% of women voting for the Republican candidate in their district.  In 2006, there was a 4-point gender gap, with 56% of women and 52% of men voting for the Democratic candidate in their district. 

Kelly Dittmar is an Assistant Professor of Political Science at Rutgers University–Camden and Scholar at the Center for American Women and Politics at the Eagleton Institute of Politics. She has authored multiple book chapters on gender and American politics, and her book Navigating Gendered Terrain: Stereotypes and Strategy in Political Campaigns (Temple University Press, in press) was published in 2015. Dittmar's research focuses on gender and American political institutions, with a particular focus on how gender informs campaigns and the impact of gender diversity among elites in policy and political decisions, priorities, and processes. Dittmar was an American Political Science Association (APSA) Congressional Fellow from 2011 to 2012. At CAWP, she manages national research projects, helps to develop and implement CAWP's research agenda, and contributes to CAWP reports, publications, and analyses. She directs CAWP's latest project, Gender Watch 2018 and works with CAWP's programs for women's public leadership. Dittmar has been an expert source and commentator for media outlets including MSNBC, NPR, PBS, the New York Times, and the Washington Post. Dittmar earned her B.A. from Aquinas College in Grand Rapids, MI and her Ph.D. from Rutgers University-New Brunswick.