The Christian Gender Gap

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“The Partisan Paradox: Religious Commitment and the Gender Gap in Party Identification” by Karen M. Kaufmann, in Public Opinion Quarterly (Winter 2004), Northwestern Univ., School of Communication, 2240 North Campus Dr., Evanston, Ill. 60208.

If religious voters are more conservative than others, and if women tend to be more religious than men, why is there a “gender gap” in national elections that leaves the women’s vote tilted toward the Democratic Party?

It could be that religious commitment influences the partisan leanings of only the most devout voters. But that’s not the case, according to Kaufmann, a University of Maryland political scientist who analyzed public opinion surveys from the four presidential elections between 1988 and 2000. Among the highly devout (as measured by such factors as weekly church attendance), the gender gap persists: 59 percent of men, but only 49 percent of women, identified with the Republican Party.

Perhaps religious commitment has a stronger effect on men than on women, making the men more conservative? No, says Kaufmann. On a range of issues—from defense policy to gay rights and other cultural issues—religious belief pulls men and women to the right in equal measures.

But that rightward shift still leaves a big gender gap on one question: attitudes toward the size and nature of the welfare state. Women, Kaufman says, “are simply more liberal than men on questions of social welfare.” And for many religious women, social welfare policies are a more important determinant of voting behavior than the hot-button cultural issues that are said to animate so many religious voters.

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