MEN have long tended to favour Republican candidates; women have voted more for the “mommy party” than men in every election since 1992. Yet the gap now looks like a chasm. In 1992 women and men disagreed over which party they identified with by 11 points. The margin has since widened to 23 points (see chart). For comparison, Donald Trump won white voters by 21 points in 2016 and lost Hispanics by 36 points.
It is no mystery why so many women are abandoning the Republican Party. Lots of the party’s elected officials have vowed to defund Planned Parenthood, which in addition to its other activities provides abortions. They often have bossy views about what kind of contraception company health plans should offer their employees. Democrats often use these examples of party policy to motivate women to vote against Republicans. “Any woman who voted against Hillary Clinton voted against their own voice,” Michelle Obama said in 2017. Add in a Republican president with a taste for younger wives and pneumatic paramours—a man who, according to a biography of the first family by Emily Jane Fox, once suggested to his teenage daughter that her modelling career would be enhanced if she had breast implants—and you have a powerful mixture.
The gender gap in American politics cannot solely be explained by what women want, however. If it could, there would not be much of a contest ahead in November’s mid-terms. Instead, men are sticking with the Republicans as women move away, buttressing the party when it would otherwise be falling over.
Why should this be? Political psychologists argue that men are experiencing “status threat” from women, just as many white voters feel a status threat from non-whites. The most prominent proponent of the idea that status threats motivate voting is Diana Mutz of the University of Pennsylvania. Ms Mutz argues that there was little relationship between a change in voters’ financial circumstances and their support for Mr Trump in 2016. Her analysis finds that feelings about America’s waning position in the world and the increased prominence of non-whites in the country were far better predictors of Trump-voting.
A different kind of status threat occurs as women climb the ranks of Fortune 500 companies and shatter glass ceilings: many men worry about cutting their feet on the shards left lying on the floor. The American National Election Studies (ANES) from 2016 found that those who think things were better when a man went out to work and a woman stayed at home were overwhelmingly more likely to vote Republican. That view, though shared by a considerable minority of women, is unsurprisingly more widespread among men. The ANES pilot study found that 40% of Republican men thought they faced “a great deal” or “a lot” of discrimination on account of their sex.
Social-science experiments have found that when men are prompted to think about changing gender roles, their political opinions shift measurably to the right. One test along these lines was conducted with voters in New Jersey in 2016. Half of the households in the study were simply asked whom they would vote for. The other half were told that in an increasing number of families women earn more than men, and were then asked about their voting intentions. The first group of men, who received no prompt, favoured Hillary Clinton by 16 points (New Jersey is heavily Democratic in presidential elections). By contrast, the men who received the prompt favoured Mrs Clinton by eight points
Such attitudes might be dismissed as the grumblings of old men, but they are not. The Pew Research Centre found that the gender gap is 20 points wider among voters younger than 35 than it is among those aged 35 to 49. One explanation is that young men are more likely to encounter the women’s-rights movement on social media than older men are. Or perhaps men find women more threatening before they settle down with one. Whatever the cause, with binders full of women running for the Democrats this year it is hard to see men abandoning the party of Trump.