Political Aptitude Test

April 17, 1996


See The Answer


Answer: B. Kennedy

By Bill Schneider/CNN

The gender gap is a gender gulf -- it's getting larger and larger. But will it be decisive this fall?

This week's Political Aptitude Test question asks, which of the following presidents won among voters of one gender and lost the other?

The choices were: A) Ronald Reagan, B) John Kennedy, C) Bill Clinton, D) Dwight Eisenhower and E) George Bush.

And the answer is...B. John Kennedy. Kennedy! Of course! He swept the women's vote, right? Wrong.

For all his vaunted charm and sex appeal, Kennedy narrowly lost women voters to Richard Nixon in 1960. It was men who elected Kennedy. In 1960, Kennedy was the riskier candidate. He was young and aggressive. Remember the "missile gap"?

Nixon was the safe, reliable choice and women voters tend to be more risk-averse. In 1952 and 1956, Eisenhower was a reassuring figure and women were stronger for him than men.

These days, the gender gap works in the opposite direction, with men more Republican, women more Democratic. When did that start? 1976 was the last pre-gender gap election. Men voted exactly the same as women. Both gave Jimmy Carter a two-point lead over Gerald Ford.

The gender gap sprang up when Ronald Reagan got elected in 1980. Men voted more Republican than women, though both voted for the winner. The same thing happened in 1984, 1988 and 1992.

Women started voting more Democratic when the GOP moved to the right. Women still tend to be more risk-averse and women have only recently begun to achieve economic independence. So they tend to see government as a safety net. Since the Republicans took over Congress in 1994 and threatened the government safety net, the gender gap has become the gender gulf. Among men, Bill Clinton leads Bob Dole by just three points. Among women, Clinton's lead is an astounding 27 points. Kennedy was elected by men. Clinton may end up getting elected this year by women.

CNN Washington Bureau Chief Frank Sesno: One of the things the Republicans say they're going to be going after is the character issue. How does the character issue break down among men and women?

Schneider: So far, no big differences are showing up, but the Republicans hope that the character issue can raise doubts about Clinton personally and that can peel away some of that heavy women's support that he's getting and perhaps bring it over to Bob Dole. There is no evidence of that at this point.

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