fall 2004
table of contents
Letter from the Editor
Articles Online

Scandal Patrol
Daughters Helping Working Mothers
Republican Women for Choice
Pregnant Women Murdered
San Francisco Women's Building
Sisters Who Sip


Haitians Fight Despair
Matenwa's Artists
Women with AIDS
Spanish Women in Charge
Gandhi Power
Afghan Women's Vote
Networking Corner

Cover Story
It's the Women, Stupid | Ellen Hawkes
Why the Gender Gap Matters | Eleanor Smeal
Fighting Words for a Secular America | Robin Morgan

More Features

The Unreal World | Jennifer Pozner
Virgin Territory | Camille Hahn
A Family Affair | Gillian Kane
Liv Ullmann: A Ms. Conversation | Robert Emmet Long
Liberating Mary | Bob Lamm


Where's That Smoking Gun? Sex discrimination is getting harder to prove | Pamela Haag

The Breast Cancer Divide: Why the disease kills so many African Americans | Michelle L. Smith, M.D.

A Feast of Feminist Art
"The Dinner Party" finds a home in Brooklyn | Carey Lovelace

Jamesey, Jamesey | Ursula Hegi
Intersection | Roxana Robinson

God Says Yes To Me | Kaylin Haught
| Donna Masini

Touching History
Encounters with women of renown: Marjory Stoneman Douglas, Hillary Clinton and Mamie "Peanut" Johnson

Book Reviews
Bob Bledsoe on The Finishing School by Murial Sparks; Valerie Miner on The Falls by Joyce Carol Oates; Samantha Dunn on The Doctor's Wife by Elizabeth Brundage; Carey Lovelace on Full Bloom: The
Art and Life of Georgia O'Keefe
by Hunter Drohojowska-Philp
; Patricia Cohen on Nightingales: The Extraordinary Upbringing and Curious Life of Miss Florence Nightingale by Gillian Gill

Plus: Fall Must-Read List

Save the Courts | Donna Brazile

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FEATURES | fall 2004

Why the Gender Gap Matters

In U.S. elections, women count — or, to be more precise, women count more. On November 2, 2004, some 8 million more women than men will vote.

Magnifying women’s voting clout is the gender gap — the measurable difference in the way women and men vote for candidates and in the way they view political issues.

The gender gap and women’s votes have been decisive in numerous gubernatorial and congressional races since 1982. In all cases where the majority of women’s votes provided the winning margin, pro-choice candidates won.

Without women’s votes, many of the women in the U.S. Senate — Dianne Feinstein (Calif., in her 1994 race), Barbara Boxer (Calif.), Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.), Debbie Stabenow (Mich.), Maria Cantwell (Wash.) — would not have won, and many pro-choice men in the Senate would not have won either.

Then in 1996, women elected President Bill Clinton. If men only had voted, Bob Dole would have been elected president. In the odd election of 2000, women voters provided the edge for Al Gore in the popular vote. In 16 of the 21 states which Gore won in the electoral votes, his victory was because of the gender gap and women’s votes.

The gender gap — first identified by yours truly in 1980 — was initially dismissed in importance by the pundits. Today, it cannot be ignored by presidential, gubernatorial or congressional strategists in competitive races. In fact, the state-by-state picture is even more compelling than the overall national view.

The presidential election nationwide looks tight, but key state by key state, the difference is the gender gap. Moreover, nationally, women are 65 percent of undecided voters, and in key states, such as West Virginia , as high as 70 percent. This is a good thing for women. Without the gender gap, women’s votes — and women’s issues — would be ignored. Even with it, too often women’s issues are neglected by consultant-driven campaigns.

The gender gap is fueled by issues such as women’s rights, abortion rights, human services (education, health care, Social Security), war and gun control. Pro-choice women were more likely than pro-choice men to vote for Gore, producing a gender gap of 16 points.

In 2004, a highly mobilized and motivated pro-choice constituency of more than 1 million people, mostly women, marched on Washington, D.C., to keep abortion and birth control safe, legal and accessible. With only a 5-4 Supreme Court vote currently upholding Roe v. Wade, and with the certainty of Supreme Court retirements over the next four years, pro-women’s rights activists are mobilized like never before.

Every year pundits come up with a new way of looking at or diminishing the gender gap. This year, some are saying that the marriage gap is more important than the gender gap. I believe they are wrong. The gender gap cuts across all major demographic factors, including marital status, race, income, age and education. For example, 44 percent of single women consider themselves Democrats, compared to 31 percent for single men, for a significant 13-point gender gap.

Seventy-two percent of single women, compared to 52 percent of single men, think the country is generally going in the wrong direction, for a whopping 20- point gender gap. Yet the same poll (National Annenberg Election Survey, June 16–30) showed a marriage gap on approval of the way George W. Bush is handling his job as president: 58 percent of single men and 54 percent of single women disapproved, compared to 41 percent of married men and women (a 17-point marriage gap).

Both marital status and gender are important in shaping voting and issue preferences. Unmarried women were Gore’s strongest supporters, but there was still a gender gap. Gore won 63 percent of the votes of unmarried women and only 48 percent of the votes of unmarried men, for a 15-point gender gap.

This is key today because single women are about 20 percent of the electorate. Susan B. Anthony fought for women’s right to vote not only for women’s equality but also because she thought it would make a difference. And finally it does. We should not now obfuscate this difference.

As Eleanor Roosevelt said, “It’s up to the women.” Never has it mattered so much.

Eleanor Smeal is president of Feminist Majority and the Feminist Majority Foundation, which publishes Ms.

View the latest Zogby Interactive poll (Sept. 13-17), featuring a breakdown of the gender gap in selected states.
For all the latest news and analysis on the gender gap and women voters, visit Ms. Magazine's Election 2004.

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