Inside the Electoral Gender Gap

Linda Burnham, Executive Director of the Women of Color Resource Center, wrote an amazing editorial reflecting on the role that women of color played in the presidential election.
“Much has been made of the gender gap in US elections. Organizations stake their political strategies and their income streams on the margins between male and female voters…On November 2, 48 percent of women versus 55 percent of men voted to re-elect Bush. However, despite the administration’s record, Bush gained 5 percentage points among women from 2000 to 2004. The Republican victory can be attributed, in no small part, to an increase in women’s support. Where did this support come from?”
Relying on CNN exit polls, Burnham notes that while 55% of white women voted for Bush, less that 25% of women of color voted for the current regime. Put another way–only 44% of white women voted for Kerry, compared to 75% of women of color. (Burnham also notes that in Mississippi 89% of white women voted for Bush, while 89% of women of color voted for Kerry). The moral of the story: had the election been up to women of color we would be enjoying a *very* different political climate.
“[T]he national divergence between White women and women of color settled in at 31 percentage points: 55 percent of White women voted for Bush while 24 percent of women of color did. A single-minded focus on the gender gap sidesteps this troubling reality. Does it make sense for feminists to give their entire attention on the 5-10 percent electoral gap between women and men and none to the 30-80 percent gap between women of color and white women? What are the strategic consequences of that focus?
Burnham is dead on in her critique. As Bush’s inauguration draws closer and closer, and we begin the reality of *four more years*, I think we must return to our analysis of how we landed in this situation. Until we begin to deconstruct the universalized “women’s vote” along lines of race, ethnicity and geography we aren’t going to come up with many answers.
“If we are striving for reality-based politics, and we certainly cannot afford to do otherwise at this moment in history, we will conduct a deep inquiry into why and how women’s political thinking diverges so profoundly along the colorline. What motivated a majority of White women, especially in the South, to identify their interests so thoroughly with those of the Republican Party? How we can begin to bridge the racial chasm in US politics to further a progressive agenda?”

Join the Conversation

  • NancyP

    The southern white women are voting the race card, as usual. No surprises there. I would think that that will change in about 2050. Don’t bother to go for the upper income suburban married women either. Unless they are Jewish, write them off. They will vote their pocketbook every time, and assume that they can buy their way out of problems (send their kid to Europe, or get them in the Champagne unit of the National Guard; send their daughter to Canada for a legal abortion; etc). The women to focus on are the single women who didn’t bother voting because neither candidate addressed their issues, women whose husbands are laid off or afraid for their jobs, women without health insurance, women who work in the public sector (overwhelmingly Dem, and I might add, the percentage of women in public sector jobs is much higher for blacks than whites, explaining some of the race spread).

  • Katha Pollitt

    I’ve always been a gender-gap skeptic, and have written several columns over the years teasing apart the different strands in the women’s vote. It is just much more complicated than women v men. Still, I think this article massages the numbers a bit. What is “of color”? Latinas can be of any race, that Arabs (a tiny percentage of the vote) are not white would come as a surprise to the ones I went to high school with, and so on.