Home 2019 Elections Dr. Sabato needs to explain: Virginia’s astounding gender gap

Dr. Sabato needs to explain: Virginia’s astounding gender gap


by Paul Goldman

Anyone got Dr. Sabato’s number up there at UVA? Using the latest Virginia poll most favorable to Mr. Romney (I don’t want to get called out again by Sarah Palin and Sean Hannity and “my friend” Ann Coulter to use a Bidenism), I have to say: explaining the gender gap is way beyond this boy’s pay grade. I know a thing or two about winning statewide elections in VA, even making history more than most, statewide and locally, hoping to do it again real soon.

But I know my limits: And that includes not being able to explain a 27% gender gap? That’s a gender canyon! Romney led men by +`15% and the President led women by +12%! So while the top line number – Romney + 1 statewide – is within the margin of error, the gender gap is beyond dispute. It is beyond the margin of normal understanding.

Hello! Who says there isn’t life on Mars! I could call NASA for an explanation. But they don’t know anymore than the Rover does. So I figure: Why call a robot when you can ask Dr. Sabato? He might not know the answer. But it can’t hurt to ask right?

Fellas: A guy has to eventually learn a few things in life, hopefully the hard way though since you don’t want to miss out on a good thing either. But at some point, you kinda got to learn when a woman is out of your league, when you really don’t want to risk getting into a fight with that guy at the bar, when you really have to fold that poker hand even though you can’t stand the guy who is going to win the big pot of the night.

AND: When politics becomes a little too complicated. Granted, there are so many in Virginia politics who think they know everything and take credit for just about anything. That’s not me: I have my opinions like anyone else. But I am not afraid to admit when I do not know the answer to something. A 27% gender canyon is one of those things.

It is true that given the margins of error in polling, the actual gap is considerably less. But at the same time, the same statistical rules means the actual gap at this point could be considerably higher also!

So let’s just assume 27% is a fair numerical description of the gender canyon at the time of the NBC poll. In effect, it means that almost every white guy who doesn’t consider himself a Democrat is voting Republican this year. There doesn’t seem to be anyway to get to the Romney men’s total without such a dynamic.

The +12 for the President in terms of the female vote is a gender gap we have seen before in other states, but not in Virginia, in a contested two-way race for president if memory serves. Wilder had a big gender gap in his historic Governor’s win since it was the first in the country to feature abortion has the top substantive issue in a statewide governor’s race. But there was nothing like a 27% gender gap nor a +12 with women at least to my memory.

Moreover, we are talking presidential election here in 2012, not gubernatorial. Women, as a group, are more pro-Democratic than men, and given the President’s overall support, he will run better among women this year as he did in 2008. Given the nature of the race this year, his female support should be higher on a net bases. So like I say, a +12 is pushing it but it is explainable. But a +15 for Romney is a number that is a throwback to a different age in Virginia, when the state was reliably Republican.

In 2008, the exit polls, given the margin of error, made it impossible to know for certain whether Obama or McCain had won the male vote. The President did have a clear lead among women. The +12 projected this year is 5 points higher than the 2008 exit number but technically within the margin of error at this point. But Romney’s +15 with men is a universe away from 2008. Moreover, the gender gap in 2008 was 3% in the national exit poll here in Virginia! 3%! Now it is 27%.

True, George Bush got a +19% among men in the 2004 exit polls. But that poll claimed 1 in 4 non-white guys voted for Bush. First of all, that ain’t happening. Second of all: Romney will be lucky to get middle single digits this year among non-white men. So if you adjust the numbers, you can say that Romney’s current standing among men is roughly the same as Bush’s in 2004.

BUT: In 2004, the exit polls show that among women, Bush and Kerry where roughly tied. Even if you back out non-white women this year, those numbers don’t change that much.

Yet you say: In 2000, Bush had a +21 with men over Gore in Virginia according to a paper from Sabato’s UVA shop. But the Gore margin over Bush among women was within the margin of error. SO AGAIN: Bush managed to have great appeal to white men but without politically repelling white women.


Romney’s appeal to white men – at least by the numbers – seemingly has the opposite effect on white women, at least by the numbers from an historic point of view. Which is why I say: Calling Dr. Sabato.

In 2000 and in 2004, the exit polls also show that Bush got a decent share of the non-white vote for a GOP presidential candidate, a situation that will not happen in 2012.

Thus, from a poor demographic analysis, any potential Romney winning coalition has to be significantly different in terms of winning the popular vote.

In general terms, it would seem that Romney has two usual choices: matching Bush’s strength among white men and women, or  he as to somehow exceed Bush’s total among white men while not turning off the pro-Bush female voter in the 2000 and 2004 mold.

Or there is a third not so usual choice: hugely increase the turnout among the Bush male/female type voter. Even in this most pro-Romney VA poll, Romney is approaching the Bush male vote dynamic, but it would appear the price is some anti-Romney fallout among key female voters. But maybe not: I haven’t studied the numbers like Dr. Sabato can.

Bottom line: As Dr. Sabato correctly pointed out in his post-2000 analysis, the gender gap was the bottom line mathematical key to Bush winning in Virginia by the margin he did. The same for 2004. Here in 2012 however, Sabato expects a closer race indeed the closest race in Virginia in the modern error perhaps.

Carter in 1976 lost in large measure because he fell way short of expectations in Northern Virginia. But here in 2012, I submit the anti-federal worker mantra from the GOP has changed NOVA over the years to where it is now solidly Democratic in presidential years not merely as a case of demographic change. GOP bashing has cost them big time forever in NOVA.

In 1996, Bob Dole won a narrow three way win over Bill Clinton on the basis of a +12 with men. But it was an 18% gender gap so in that sense, I suppose one might say 2012 is comparable.

But I don’t think so in reality. This is nearly a generation later. The GOP pitch is far different than Dole against Clinton. Bottom line: I think the 27% gender gap is significant milestone if it holds. But like I say, it is beyond my pay grade at this point. So calling Dr. Sabato.

Is this just a new version of 1996 maybe with a bigger gender gap? Or is the 27%, if it holds, a sign of a whole new ball game in VA?


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