The gender gap: how men and women view the biggest political issues

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We look at the role of gender in politics, not only the way women view certain issues compared to men, and it might surprise you, because on many issues they view things similarly. But how politicians view women and how they try to cultivate that vote, especially with a huge election coming up next year. Associate Professor of Political Science at AU, Dr. Mary-Kate Lizotte, returns to The Means Report to help navigate those waters.

Brad Means: Dr. Lizotte, welcome back to The Means Report.

Dr. Mary-Kate Lizotte: Thank you.

Brad Means: Thank you for what you do in the Social Sciences department at AU. We appreciate you.

Dr. Mary-Kate Lizotte: Thank you.

Brad Means: All right, so let’s talk about women in politics, just sort of with a generic question at first. Would you say, as a rule, that men and women view most issues differently? That there’s this huge separation or gap between the genders on issues?

Dr. Mary-Kate Lizotte: I would say on a lot of issues there are very big differences. So the biggest differences are on issues of the use of force, both internationalLY and domestically. So women are more supportive of gun control and less supportive of war, in comparison to men. There’s also big differences on social welfare programs. So women are much more supportive of government spending on various social welfare programs. There’s some differences on environmental attitudes. Women tend to be more liberal than men on a number of issues, but then there are other issues where there are not large differences, so. And when I say a large difference, they tend to be around eight to 12 percentage points. So that might mean 60% of women have a liberal attitude on that issue, whereas only 50% of men or 48% of men have a liberal attitude on that issue. So, it’s not as if 90% of women feel a certain way and 20% of men feel that way. They’re closer than far apart.

Brad Means: All right, well just that answer alone makes me wish that we had booked you for the whole show instead of just for one segment, because it’s a lot to think about. Let’s try to break down the issues that you mentioned.

Dr. Mary-Kate Lizotte: Sure.

Brad Means: Why are women, as a rule, more likely to have the stance that they have on gun control, or use of force, as you put it, versus men? Where does that originate?

Dr. Mary-Kate Lizotte: So there’s lots of different theories, and I’m sure that most people could guess what they are. So, motherhood is one explanation that’s been looked at. Whether or not it’s because women are socialized to be caring and become mothers someday. And there’s some evidence to support that. But it doesn’t look like it explains everything. But just in general, women tend to, probably because of socialization, perhaps other reasons, they tend to care a lot more about the wellbeing of others. And so, I think that that’s really what’s driving both their attitudes against war, and then their support for more gun control, is because they want people to be safe and secure, and well taken care of.

Brad Means: Similar answer, then, for their stance on welfare programs? Is it that caring, nurturing instinct?

Dr. Mary-Kate Lizotte: Yeah, I think that that’s really what it is. You know, depending on who you talk to, and, it’s hard to really disentangle, is it socialization, is it some sort of innate, instinctual difference? Is it a combination of the two? But I definitely think it comes down to feeling more connected to other people, and caring about the wellbeing of others.

Brad Means: A lot of the views that you have talked about for women sound like views that would be more aligned with the Democratic Party than the Republican Party. So the question is, as we have the 2020 election upon us, how do Republicans tap into those viewpoints? I don’t wanna say change them, but get them to come around to their way of thinking?

Dr. Mary-Kate Lizotte: I think that one thing that the Republican Party can do is to frame some of their issue stances as caring about people, as doing what’s best for people. Instead of focusing on the economy, or things that maybe aren’t phrased in such a way that really gets at this idea of taking care of other people. You know, they could talk about the economy in a way that is about helping people out of poverty, or helping people to take care of their families. So I think they could frame certain issues. But also, there are conservative women. There’s a good amount of conservative women who, I think, are very likely to get out there and vote for the Republican Party. So they obviously don’t wanna alienate their base. So, it’s a fine line that they would need to walk, in order to attract more women.

Brad Means: Do they need more women in office? Do they need more women in those prominent roles, to be, as Melissa Furman referenced several times in the business segment, role models for these potential voters?

Dr. Mary-Kate Lizotte: Yes, I think that that would be very helpful. I have a friend who’s done some research on that, and she’s found that the symbolic nature of the fact that the Democratic Party has more women, historically, that they’ve had, hold office and run for office, is one reason why women are attracted to the Democratic Party. So the Republican Party really does need to think about finding women, asking them to run for office at lower levels, and encouraging and fostering their growth, in terms of their political careers.

Brad Means: You know at one point, in the past couple of weeks, the Democrats had six women running for president. Are times great right now for women in politics? Or would you still say there’s a ways to go?

Dr. Mary-Kate Lizotte: I would say there’s still a ways to go. We’ve definitely gotten pretty far. There have been a lot of women running right now, but I think there’s still a lot of attitudes that many would call sexist. That either get spoken about in the media, or that individuals in the electorate feel. When we look at who voted for Hillary Clinton in 2016 versus who voted for Donald Trump, we find that people who self-report sexist attitudes were much more likely to vote for Donald Trump, and much less likely to vote for Hillary Clinton. And I would say that those things haven’t gone away. I think that the fact that Hillary Clinton didn’t end up winning the election has made some Democrats who are generally fairly egalitarian and support women’s equality less likely to wanna support a woman. You know, there’s that fear there, that having a woman be the nominee, we could have a repeat of what happened in 2016. So, I think it’s better than it’s been, but there’s still a long way to go.

Brad Means: Would a female, a woman running mate, a vice presidential candidate be the way to go, then?

Dr. Mary-Kate Lizotte: I think that that would be possible, that that could make a lot of people happy. But it would concern me. I think that some women, women are actually more likely to vote than men, to turn out to vote. Black women being the most likely to turn out to vote, over the last few elections. And so, you don’t wanna alienate those hardcore voters, those dependable, show up, stay in line for a couple hours in order to vote. So I think a vice presidential candidate could be really great, but it could also be alienating to some of those women who really wanna see a woman become president.

Brad Means: During Donald Trump’s presidency, especially during the nomination of Supreme Court Justice Kavanaugh, we saw a lot of protests. We saw marching in the streets. We saw large crowds of women coming together. My question to you is, where are the Republican women, and their demonstrations, and their loud voices? Are they just silent and go about their business in relative anonymity, instead of being on TV all the time, like the women who hate Trump?

Dr. Mary-Kate Lizotte: I think that there were a lot of Republican women who had participated in the Women’s March, and have participated in different protests. And there’s also been a lot of Republican women who have participated in pro-life demonstrations, or other issues that matter to them, because they tend to be more religious than women who are Democrats. I definitely don’t think that they’re, you know, staying home, quiet. I just think that it might depend on what issues get them fired up.

Brad Means: Do they respond to polls, Republican women, as much as Democratic women do?

Dr. Mary-Kate Lizotte: So women are much more likely to respond to polls, in general, than men are.

Brad Means: They are.

Dr. Mary-Kate Lizotte: And I think it’s probably just ’cause they’re nice, and they wanna help somebody out, and fill out the poll. But Republicans in general, during the 2016 election and since, have been a little less likely to answer polls. And partially, it looks like it tracks along different controversies having to do with the Trump administration, that when there’s some sort of controversy with either the Trump candidacy or the Trump administration, Republicans are a little hesitant to answer a poll, just because they don’t wanna have to talk about that controversial subject, or the scandal that just happened. So that’s been a definite problem for people doing survey research and polling.

Brad Means: I would imagine it would be a huge one. Probably 30 seconds left, my last question, will women tip the scales when it comes to who wins the presidency next year? Is it all about the women’s vote?

Dr. Mary-Kate Lizotte: I think, ultimately, it probably will be. In particular, black women. Like I said before, they show up to the polls, they’re very dependable. But yes, I definitely think that the gender gap in vote choice is gonna play a big part in this election.

Brad Means: And we totally blew past, and we have probably seven seconds. Men and women, surprisingly to me, were pretty closely aligned on the issue of abortion, correct?

Dr. Mary-Kate Lizotte: Yes, they are. They tend to be, just because women tend to be a little bit more religious than men, and so that tends to drive them to be more likely to be pro-life, or only pro-choice under certain circumstances, which is where men tend to fall as well.

Brad Means: Fascinating information, it needs to be a show unto its own. So I hope you’ll come back.

Dr. Mary-Kate Lizotte: Thank you, I would love to.

Brad Means: Absolutely, Dr. Mary-Kate Lizotte from Augusta University’s Department of Political Science, thank you.

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Brad Means

The Means Report first aired in January of 2009 offering coverage that you cannot get from a daily newscast. Forget about quick soundbytes -- we deliver an in-depth perspective on the biggest stories. If they are making news on the local or national level, you will find them on the set of The Means Report. Hosted by WJBF NewsChannel 6 anchor, Brad Means, The Means Report covers the topics impacting your life, your town, your state, and your future.