Do men and women vote differently?

How Women Vote

As the 2008 presidential race demonstrated, women won't automatically vote for another woman.
As the 2008 presidential race demonstrated, women won't automatically vote for another woman.
Bill Pugliano/Getty Images

With propositions including cuts to welfare and blocking passage of the Equal Rights Amendment, which sought to constitutionally guarantee women equal rights as men under any federal, state and local law, not all of Ronald Reagan's platforms sat well with American women [source: Copeland]. As a result, enough female voters fled Republican ranks in the 1980 election to produce an 8-percentage point gap between men and women who supported Reagan [source: Center for American Women and Politics]. Of course, Reagan still won then -- and again in 1984 -- but that election has proven pivotal nevertheless, since that slight but persistent red and blue split between male and female voters, respectively, still hasn't closed. For a more recent example, take the 2008 presidential election. Among women, Democrat Barack Obama handily beat his Republican opponent John McCain with 56 percent of the vote. Among men, however, it was a much closer race; Obama eked out just 49 percent of the male vote [source: Center for American Women and Politics].

Not only do today's women tend to side with Democratic candidates, but they also vote in greater proportions than men and from an early age. In the 2004 presidential showdown between Republican George W. Bush and Democrat John Kerry, for instance, women out-voted men in every age demographic, with 60.1 percent of total eligible female voters casting their ballots, compared to 56.3 percent of their male counterparts [source: Center for American Women in Politics]. And when they march to the polls, women bring along distinctive ideologies that drive them toward the donkey rather than the elephant.

Research suggests that population-wide gender differences in how men and women conceptualize the role of government likely contribute to these nationwide pink and blue voting trends. For instance, a 1997 study from the Center for American Women and Politics found that more women believe the federal government should function altruistically to help disenfranchised citizens, whereas men think it should take a more individualistic approach [source: Frum]. In other words, a majority of women swing more socially liberal and Democratic, while traditionally more men have favored Republican conservatism. That altruistic-versus-individualistic dichotomy is reflected in how women and men prioritize election issues as well. According to a March 2012 survey from the non-partisan Pew Research Center, women were more likely than men to support government services for the poor, tighter regulations on food production and tougher workplace safety laws [source: Pew Research Center].

But there's still plenty of nuance in these numbers. Federal policies related to healthcare, unemployment and gas prices ranked highly for both men and women voters in a recession-era 2012 election season [source: Newport]. Moreover, neither men nor women constitute monolithic voting blocs. They're more accurately described as two mega-demographics that each can be sliced and diced into discrete groups with conflicting political and social affiliations. Moreover, if candidates are hoping to woo the fairer sex in particular, a rookie mistake to make would be emphasizing so-called "women's issues" and calling it a day.