Gender gap in men didn’t stop Obama

Less loyal to party, males seen as ultimate swing voters

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Sorry, fellas, but President Obama’s re-election makes it official: Women can overrule men at the ballot box.

For the first time in research dating back to 1952, a presidential candidate whom men chose decisively — Republican Mitt Romney — lost. More women voted for the other guy.

It’s surprising it didn’t happen sooner because women have been voting in larger numbers than men for almost three decades, exit polls show.

But men, who make up less than half the U.S. population, always have exercised power greater than their numbers, and they aren’t about to stop now.

When it comes to elections, males as a group are more influential because they show less party loyalty than women, who skew Democratic.

Despite all the focus on candidates courting Hispanics or the working class, men are the nation’s ultimate swing voters. They’re why Republican George W. Bush became president and Republican John McCain didn’t.

Their move away from Mr. Obama this year expanded the voting “gender gap.” It wasn’t enough to determine the outcome, but came close.

So presidential hopefuls staring into the gender gap in 2016 might want to look beyond the usual controversies over “women’s issues” such as abortion or the polling fads such as “Wal-Mart moms.” Maybe it’s time to pause and consider the fickle male. Maybe it’s time to ask, “What do men want?”

In the voting booth, that is.

“I don’t think we fully understand it yet,” political scientist Christina Wolbrecht of the University of Notre Dame said about why men and women vote differently. But she said plenty of research on elections going back to the 1950s indicates it’s not because of issues such as equal pay, birth-control coverage in health plans or Mr. Romney’s awkward reference to “binders full of women.”

Paul Kellstedt has some ideas. A Texas A&M associate professor of political science, Mr. Kellstedt studies what American men and women want from their government and how that shifts over time.

Like Ms. Wolbrecht, he noted that the sexes aren’t that different, at least when it comes to the issues.

Studies have found that the opinions that separate liberals and conservatives, even on issues such as abortion, don’t divide the sexes much. Men and women are about as likely to fall on either side of those debates, and millions of each happily line up with each political party.

But there has been a consistent thread of disagreement for decades over what role the government should play. It’s not a big gap, but it is statistically significant, about 4 percentage points or 5 points in many studies, Mr. Kellstedt said. As a group, women tend to like bigger government with more health and welfare programs, whereas men lean toward smaller government that spends less, except on the military.

Sort of the social safety net versus rugged individualism. Or Mr. Obama versus Mr. Romney.

There are lots of possible reasons the genders see this differently.

Besides women’s traditional role as family nurturers, they also live longer than men, and so are more likely to rely on Social Security and Medicare. Women are more likely to be poor. They’re more likely to be single parents struggling to pay for child care, education and medical bills. Men may feel many social programs are expensive and won’t benefit them.

“Women tend to believe that government has a role to play, that it should be a partner in their life,” said Democratic pollster Celinda Lake. “Men tend to think it’s been a good day when the government hasn’t done anything bad to you.”

When the nation as a whole drifts to the left or right on the big government-small government debate, the gap between men and women fluctuates. Men and women shift their views in the same direction, Mr. Kellstedt said, but men as a group tend to change their minds faster and move their views further.

“The variation among men’s opinions is larger,” he said. “The flighty, moody ones are the men, not the women.”

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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