As the largest demographic group among swing voters, women are expected to play an important, if not crucial, role in the upcoming 2008 presidential election. Discussion about the "women's vote" assumes that men and women tend to vote differently, but do they?
Psychologist Alice Eagly of Northwestern University and her colleagues attempted to understand women's political attitudes by studying data from the General Social Survey, an annual interview survey conducted by the National Opinion Research Center. In 2004 they published a paper examining gender gaps in sociopolitical attitudes based on GSS data collected between the years 1973 and 1998. For each year, approximately 1700 people were surveyed. The overall analyses included a sample of 56.4% women and 43.6% men, the majority of whom were European Americans.
Eagly and her colleagues found women's political attitudes tend to differ from men's in two different ways. First, women tend to be more socially compassionate in their attitudes. For example, women are much more likely to endorse policies that support social services for disadvantaged groups and more likely to vote for increased social services such as affordable housing, child care, and welfare. Women are more opposed to violence, including the death penalty, and more likely to support gun control. The second trend they found is that women tend to be more traditionally moral in their political attitudes. For example, women are more restrictive in their views on behavior that has been traditionally considered immoral, such as casual sex and/or the consumption of pornography.
If these two viewpoints seem contradictory when seen in terms of political parties, then perhaps they explain why women comprise so many "swing" voters. While Democratic policy has historically favored services for the socially disadvantaged, the Republican party has become increasingly associated with traditional moral values.
Political analysts have spent a great deal of time and energy trying to answer the question: "What do women want?" in order to figure out which party will cater better to women's needs. However, given that women's attitudes are often divided along two entirely different planes, the question itself seems flawed. Gender researchers are sometimes accused of lumping all women into one giant category without taking into consideration the differences among individual women. In other words, they are seen as guilty of stereotyping. Both major political parties might be making a similar mistake as they try hard to woo women to their side-and women become more aware of this. As the backlash against Sarah Palin illustrates, trying too hard to pander to the "women's vote" may ironically turn off many women voters.