The Bush campaign failed in its efforts to mute the impact of gender gap issues such as abortion rights and gun control in the presidential campaign.
Concerned about the power of women voters, Republicans tried to hide Bush’s opposition to women’s rights issues and to appeal to women on the basis of his “compassionate conservatism.”
But FDA approval of mifepristone made the abortion issue unavoidable. Before RU 486 was approved, Bush had stated that he as President would take actions to oppose the medication’s availability. But, during the October 2nd debate – four days after the drug’s approval and where he faced Vice President Al Gore who strongly favored abortion rights and women’s access to RU 486 – Bush said that he did not think that the President would have the power to stop the drug from being made available. A few days later his campaign tried to clarify the issue saying that Bush would sign into law Congressional legislation placing restrictions on RU 486 distribution.
The Bush campaign also tried to confuse women voters with a “W for Women” tour, featuring former First Lady Barbara Bush.
Ultimately, however, Bush could not hide from the gender gap. In state after state and demographic subgroup after demographic subgroup, the majority of women rejected Bush. Overall, 10% fewer women than men voted for Bush – a gender gap against Bush even greater than the 1980 gender gap against Reagan. In every single state – with the exception of North Dakota – far fewer women than men supported Bush. (In North Dakota, Bush won 61% of women’s votes and 60% of men’s votes.)
Bush lost younger women. Only 42% percent of women aged 18-29 supported Bush, compared with 51% of men, for a 9-point gender gap. And he lost older women, who gave him only 42% of their votes, while he received support from 53% of men over 60 years old. Bush’s support among unmarried women (38%), Black women (6%), women college graduates (40%), and women without high school diplomas (37%) was extremely low.
Despite the failure of the Democratic Party to feature gender gap issues in their campaign, many women voters understood the differences between the two candidates and voted accordingly.