Statement by Eleanor Smeal, President, Feminist Majority The women’s vote decisively delivered historic wins for Democrats in key House, Senate, and Gubernatorial races. In the much-watched New York U.S. Senate race, Congressman Charles Schumer defeated incumbent Republican Senator Alphonse D’Amato by a 10 point gender gap, with 59% of women voting for Schumer. California U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer (D) was re-elected with a 9 point gender gap over Republican Matt Fong; if only men had voted, Fong would have won. One of the largest gender gaps in this election was registered in the upset victory of Democratic challenger John Edwards over incumbent Republican Senator Lauch Faircloth in North Carolina — a whopping 16 point gender gap. Women voted 59-40% for Edwards, while men voted 55-43% for Faircloth. And Fritz Hollings (D) would not have won his Senate race in South Carolina without the 7-point margin of support provided by women voters. Gender gaps also put incumbent Democratic Senator Patty Murray in Washington State (8-point gender gap) and newly elected Democratic Senator Blanche Lambert Lincoln in Arkansas (5-point gender gap) over the top in their races.
Overall, the gender gap — with women favoring Democratic House candidates and men favoring Republicans — held firm. In 1998, the majority (51%) of women voters supported Democratic House candidates, while the majority (52%) of men voted Republican. In 1996, House Democratic candidates won support from 55% of women, while 54% of men supported Republicans. Incumbent Congresswoman Julia Carson, viewed as one of the most vulnerable Democratic women in the House, won with women’s votes. House Speaker Newt Gingrich’s leadership was delivered a historic defeat by women voters, who were fed up with the impeachment drumbeat and alarmed by the anti-women’s rights and anti-abortion rights record of the Gingrich-Lott Congress.
The gender gap also fueled gubernatorial upsets. In Maryland, pro-choice incumbent Democratic Governor Glendening won with a decisive 13% gender gap — 60% of women voted for Glendening while 50% of the men voted for anti-choice Sauerbrey. A 6-point gender gap — with women voting 55% for Barnes (D) and a plurality of men voting for Milner (R) — helped elect a Democratic governor in Georgia.
The abortion issue contributed heavily to the Democratic wins. In California, exit polls showed that abortion was the second most important issue in the U.S. Senate race and the third most important issue in the gubernatorial race in which pro-choice Democrat Gray Davis prevailed over anti-choice Dan Lungren. Winning Democrats such as Schumer, Boxer, and Glendening successfully used the abortion issue to distinguish themselves from their anti-choice opponents in the closing days of the campaign. The tragic murder of New York abortion provider Dr. Slepian made the abortion issue even more salient and motivated supporters of abortion rights to vote. Moreover, efforts to ban late term abortions were rejected by voters in both Colorado (52%-48%) and Washington State (57% – 43%). In Washington State, young voters were the strongest opponents of the abortion ban, with 64% of voters 18-29 voting no.
Eleanor Smeal, who is trained as a political scientist, was the first to identify the “gender gap” — the difference in the way women and men vote — and popularized its usage in election and polling analyses to enhance women’s voting clout. Feminist Majority Director of Policy and Research Jennifer Jackman, Ph.D. , also contributed to this analysis. The Feminist Majority houses extensive historical data on women’s voting, the gender gap, women’s issues, and women candidates.