In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Gender Gap in US Public Opinion

  • Introduction

Political Science Gender Gap in US Public Opinion
Mary-Kate Lizotte
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 February 2020
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756223-0303


In a representative democracy, policymakers, elected officials, and bureaucrats should heed public opinion. Research to date provides evidence that policymakers do care about the public’s positions on policy and that presidential administrations often seek public approval of their legislative agenda (see the Oxford Bibliographies in Political Science article, “Policy Responsiveness to Public Opinion” by Robert S. Erikson. Therefore, it is valuable to understand consistent and significant influences on the public’s policy positions and political attitudes. Gender appears to be a consistent and often significant influence on opinion. Generally, women tend to be more likely than men to adopt liberal positions on a long list of policies, including force issues, the size of the welfare state, the environment, and equal rights. For certain issues, gender seems to have a more complicated, or more conservative, influence, such as on abortion and on the legalization of marijuana. Overall, gender matters when considering public opinion in the United States. Moreover, issue gaps partially account for the gender gap in party identification and vote choice where women are more likely than men to identify as Democrats and vote for Democratic candidates. For example, in electoral simulations when women are given the same policy positions as men, a considerable reduction in the voting gender gap occurs. Readers interested in how gender influences political behavior should consult the Oxford Bibliographies in Political Science article, “Gender, Behavior, and Representation” by Elisabeth Gidengil. With women being slightly more than half of the population and being more likely to vote than men in recent elections, gender differences in policy preferences have substantial political consequences. This article discusses research on several issue areas with established gender gaps in opinion and provides a brief overview of scholarship investigating the origins of gender differences in public opinion. Much of the research cited here focuses on gender differences in public opinion but some material controls only for gender and finds a significant relationship.

Gender Differences in Issue Positions

Men and women differ in their policy positions and political attitudes spanning a number of issue areas. Women tend to be less supportive of the use of force both internationally and domestically. Eichenberg 2016 (cited under International Use of Force) finds a consistent gender gap on the use of military force, which varies in size depending on the type of conflict. Cochran and Sanders 2009 (cited under Domestic Force Issues) discusses the gender gap in support for the death penalty. Women are more supportive than men of government spending on social welfare programs. For example, Fox and Oxley 2015 (cited under Social Welfare Issues) discusses gender differences in support for government spending on food stamps and welfare. Women are more likely to believe in climate change and to be more concerned about the negative effects of climate change. McCright and Dunlap 2011 (cited under Environmental Issues) provides evidence that the gender gap on climate change belief and concern is largely caused by conservative white men, who are the least likely to believe climate change is happening and also the least likely to worry about climate change. Some research suggests there are gender differences in support for equal rights of historically marginalized groups, including African Americans, women, and the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (or questioning) (LGBTQ) community. Caughell 2016 (cited under Support for the Rights of Historically Disadvantaged Group Members) finds that women are more likely than men to support equal gender roles, to support gay rights, and to report less resentful racial attitudes toward African Americans. Finally, a gender gap exists on certain morality issues. For example, Eagly, et al. 2004 (cited under Morality Issues) finds women are less supportive of marijuana legalization and more supportive of school prayer.

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