Why The Gender Gap May Have Shrunk In The 2020 Election

Why The Gender Gap May Have Shrunk In The 2020 Election

Welcome to Pollapalooza, our weekly polling roundup.


It’s been said that women are from Venus and men are from Mars. Broadly speaking, that’s a laughable bit of pop psychology, but there’s a measure of truth to it when it comes to politics. That’s because women have voted notably more Democratic than men in every presidential race since 1980 — and the 2020 contest between Joe Biden and then-President Donald Trump was no different

A new study of validated voters from the Pew Research Center suggests, however, that the gender gap — or how women voted compared with men — meaningfully narrowed from 2016 to 2020. Pew found that 55 percent of women supported Biden compared with 48 percent of men, a gender gap of 7 percentage points.1 This marked a 6-point reduction from the 13-point gap Pew found in 2016, when 39 percent of women and 52 percent of men backed Trump. And the gender gap seems to have shrunk for two main reasons. First, Biden significantly improved his standing among men — he won 48 percent of men versus Hillary Clinton’s 41 percent. Second, Trump significantly improved his standing among women — he won 44 percent of women in 2020 versus 39 percent in 2016.

It’s harder to pinpoint exactly why the gender gap shrunk from 2016 to 2020, but Pew’s numbers point to a couple of possible explanations, particularly the influence that educational attainment has on vote choice. Consider Biden’s improvement among college-educated men. He won 58 percent of this group, a giant leap from Clinton’s 49 percent in 2016. And his performance among college-educated men marked a 10-point advantage over how he did among men overall. Conversely for Trump, his gains among women were largely concentrated among those without a four-year college degree. His support among that group grew from 43 percent in 2016 to 50 percent in 2020. Taken together, this reflects the recent trend of Americans with higher education levels shifting toward the Democrats, and less-well-educated Americans moving toward the GOP

This shift was especially notable among white voters,2 as educational attainment has tended to be a larger cleavage for them than for other racial or ethnic groups. Biden won 54 percent of white men with a college degree, up from Clinton’s 47 percent in 2016, while white women without a four-year degree moved in the other direction, as Trump’s support grew to 64 percent, up from 56 percent in 2016.

Watch: https://abcnews.go.com/fivethirtyeight/video/best-2020-post-mortem-tells-us-electorate-78700694

Yet, educational attainment isn’t the whole story, as white men without a college degree also shifted significantly toward Biden in 2020. Although Trump still won that group by a huge margin, Biden won 31 percent of them compared with Clinton’s 23 percent — an improvement that may have been foreshadowed by Biden’s performance in the presidential primary, in which he did notably better than Clinton in many parts of the country with higher shares of white voters without a college degree.

So, another factor in the narrowing gender gap, especially for men, may have been the nature of Biden’s candidacy. As a white man in his late 70s, he may have simply come across as more moderate and may have also been less likely to elicit sexist reactions among male voters than Clinton did in 2016. This is reflected in the gains Biden made among men — there isn’t one clear pattern. Biden gained among men with and without a college degree. But he also gained among white men overall, winning 40 percent of that group, up from Clinton’s 32 percent in 2016. Additionally, Biden won 44 percent of married men — married voters tend to be more conservative-leaning than unmarried voters — which marked a major improvement over Clinton’s 32 percent in 2016.

A person helping a disabled person at a voting booth

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More broadly, Biden won 52 percent of independents, up from Clinton’s 42 percent, and 16 percent of moderate or liberal Republicans, doubling Clinton’s 8 percent. In other words, in an era of political trench warfare, elements of Biden’s identity and political profile may have been just enough for him to appeal to a broad swath of the electorate, narrowing the gender gap and winning the election in the process.

Now, other surveys don’t align as neatly with some of Pew’s findings, and the reality is we’ll never know with absolute certainty how different groups voted last November. Nevertheless, this study offers another look at what happened in 2020 and the broader trends in the American electorate, including the possibility that the longstanding gender gap may have narrowed last November.

Other polling bites

  • In June, Republican pollster Echelon Insights examined how cultural and economic attitudes relate to partisanship, and one survey question asked which sort of political party respondents would back if the U.S. had more than two major parties. Twenty-four percent of registered voters said they identified with a Trump-like nationalist party bent on stopping illegal immigration and “putting America first,” while 19 percent said they would support a more traditional conservative party that would “defend” free enterprise and “promote traditional family values.” Tellingly, 83 percent of nationalist party supporters and 78 percent of conservative party supporters backed Trump in the 2020 election. Meanwhile, 26 percent of voters said they would support a labor-oriented party looking to expand the social safety net, while 9 percent would back a green party promoting environmental, social and economic justice. Lastly, 10 percent said they would support a socially liberal but fiscally conservative “Acela” party. At least 80 percent of those who identified with the latter three parties voted for Biden in 2020.
  • As vaccinations against COVID-19 become widespread and the economy reopens, Gallup’s measure of how Americans evaluate their own well-being found a record 59.2 percent “thriving,” according to the pollster’s categorization. This represented a marked shift from the low of 46.4 percent who said the same in April 2020, when the coronavirus was causing shutdowns and thousands of deaths. Notably, though, Americans’ reported life satisfaction and anticipated well-being is higher now than it was even before the pandemic.
  • Newsy/Ipsos found that a large majority of Americans were at least somewhat comfortable behaving as they did before the COVID-19 pandemic hit. Overall, 86 percent of employed workers said they were comfortable working outside the home, and 69 percent of all respondents said they were OK with being in a public place indoors without a mask. In terms of personal interactions, 64 percent said they were comfortable hugging another person, and 60 percent said they were comfortable shaking hands.
  • The latest weekly survey from The Economist/YouGov asked Americans about climate change, and 61 percent said the world’s climate was changing due to human activity, while 30 percent said the climate was changing but not because of human activity (9 percent said the climate wasn’t changing at all). Considering the political divide over climate change, there were notable partisan splits on this question. Eighty-six percent of Democrats, 60 percent of independents and 32 percent of Republicans agreed that human activity was behind climate change, while 50 percent of Republicans, 32 percent of independents and 11 percent of Democrats said the climate was changing but humans weren’t responsible. Overall, though, the pollster didn’t find much movement on this question, as responses were similar back in March 2018.
  • According to The Hill/HarrisX, Americans are pretty evenly divided over why Trump Organization chief financial officer Allen Weisselberg was indicted. Fifty-one percent of registered voters said the charges for tax fraud and other alleged crimes were politically motivated, while 49 percent said that prosecutors had uncovered criminal behavior. Unsurprisingly, 75 percent of Republicans said the indictment was politically motivated versus 70 percent of Democrats, who said the charges were due to criminal behavior.
  • YouGov asked Americans who have been married whether they thought certain marriage traditions should be preserved or dropped. Overall, most traditions were still widely popular, but pluralities of respondents did want to drop two long-standing practices: 50 percent wanted to quit having the bride promise to obey her husband (32 percent wanted to preserve that tradition), and 43 percent wanted to stop having the bride’s family pay for the wedding (25 percent wanted to preserve this). However, women — and not men — seemed to be the ones primarily driving this: 61 percent of women wanted to do away with promising to obey their husbands (versus 38 percent of men), and 52 percent didn’t want the bride’s family to have to pay for the wedding (versus 34 percent of men).

Biden approval

According to FiveThirtyEight’s presidential approval tracker,3 51.7 percent of Americans approve of the job Biden is doing as president, while 42.1 percent disapprove (a net approval rating of +9.6 points). At this time last week, 52.1 percent approved and 42.2 percent disapproved (a net approval rating of +9.9 points). One month ago, Biden had an approval rating of 53.1 percent and a disapproval rating of 40.5 percent (a net approval rating of +12.6 points).

Watch: https://abcnews.go.com/fivethirtyeight/video/conservative-majority-shaped-supreme-court-term-fivethirtyeight-78655673

Watch: https://abcnews.go.com/fivethirtyeight/video/pandemic-changed-sex-work-industry-fivethirtyeight-78621101

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