Women and the American Presidential Campaign

Since 1980, American women have been more likely to support Democratic presidential candidates than Republicans. But their preferences, while shaped by reproductive, sexual, and family interests, vary by their economic class position and personal options outside the family.

OLYMPIA, WASHINGTON – Barack Obama and John McCain are the two contenders in America’s presidential election this year, but the campaign has also been dominated by two very different women, Hillary Clinton and Sarah Palin. Indeed, many observers believe that women will determine the election’s outcome. So, to paraphrase Sigmund Freud, “What do American women want?”

Until the 1960’s, American women were more likely than men to support Republicans. In the 1980 election, a different gender gap emerged, with women more likely than men to support Democrats. In 1996, women’s support for Bill Clinton was 14 percentage points higher than men’s, and in 2000, women favored Al Gore over George W. Bush by 12 points.

But, since 1996, the political gender gap has been halved. The women gravitating back to the Republicans, according to conventional wisdom, are “security moms” – suburban wives and mothers who started worrying about their families’ safety after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. McCain’s selection of Palin was an attempt to appeal to these mothers and to pick up votes from women disappointed about Clinton’s loss.

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