Who Is Responsible for the Gender Gap? The Dynamics of Men’s and Women’s Democratic Macropartisanship, 1950–2012

AuthorHeather L. Ondercin
Published date01 December 2017
DOI10.1177/1065912917716336
Date01 December 2017
Subject MatterArticles
https://doi.org/10.1177/1065912917716336
Political Research Quarterly
2017, Vol. 70(4) 749 –761
© 2017 University of Utah
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DOI: 10.1177/1065912917716336
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Article
The gender gap first garnered publicity in the aftermath
of the 1980 presidential election. Subsequent research
has identified differences in men’s and women’s opin-
ions, ideology, knowledge, and partisanship (Huddy,
Cassese, and Lizotte 2008; Ondercin and Jones-White
2011). Initially heralded as a success of the second wave
of the women’s movement, these gender gaps were
mainly attributed to changes in women’s political behav-
ior (Abzug 1984; Smeal 1984). Further analyses, how-
ever, suggest the gender gap may be less about women’s
behavior than it is about men’s behavior (Kaufmann and
Petrocik 1999; Norrander 1999). Despite a robust body of
scholarship on the gender gap, we do not have a clear
understanding of the origins of the gender gap in partisan-
ship, or whether the gap is a function of men leaving the
Democratic Party or women growing more Democratic.
This article addresses these shortcomings by analyz-
ing the dynamics of men’s and women’s partisanship
separately from 1950 to 2012. Drawing on research that
claims partisan attachments are driven by social identities
(Green, Palmquist, and Schickler 2002), I argue the gen-
der gap is a function of men and women changing their
partisanship as they seek the best representation of their
gendered social identity from the political parties.
Specifically, changes in the parties due to party realign-
ments and shifts in the composition of the congressional
delegations have provided individuals with a clearer sig-
nal on which to base their partisan attachments. Men and
women have responded to these signals and developed
different political identities over the past seventy years,
resulting in the gender gap in partisanship.
This article makes four contributions. First, it furthers
our understanding of macro political behavior by examin-
ing the political dynamics of subgroups in the electorate.
Social identities, such as sex, divide and structure the elec-
torate.1 Moreover, these divisions have important political
implications for electoral politics (Diekman and Schneider
2010; Schaffner 2005). By understanding how sex struc-
tures partisan attachments over time, we gain insight into
electoral changes. Second, this paper provides a more
complete theoretical explanation of the gender gap. While
occasionally acknowledging that men’s behavior may
716336PRQXXX10.1177/1065912917716336Political Research QuarterlyOndercin
research-article2017
1College of Wooster, OH, USA
Corresponding Author:
Heather L. Ondercin, College of Wooster, Kauke Hall, 1189 Beall
Avenue, Wooster, OH 44691, USA.
Email: hondercin@gmail.com
Who Is Responsible for the Gender
Gap? The Dynamics of Men’s and
Women’s Democratic
Macropartisanship, 1950–2012
Heather L. Ondercin1
Abstract
I argue the gender gap is a function of men and women changing their partisanship as they seek the best representation
of their gendered social identity from the political parties. Specifically, shifts in the parties due to party realignments
and shifts in the composition of parties’ congressional delegations have provided individuals with a clearer signal on
which to base their partisan attachments. Men and women have responded differently to these signals and developed
different political identities over the past seventy years, resulting in the gender gap in partisanship. To test this theory,
I have constructed an innovative macro-level dataset of men’s and women’s partisan attachments on a quarterly
basis between 1950 and 2012. I use a Seemingly Unrelated Regression framework to estimate patterns of men’s
and women’s Democratic macropartisanship and whether particular factors contribute to the gender gap by having
different effects on men’s and women’s partisanship. The results are consistent with my theoretical expectations,
highlighting how symbolic images shape partisan attachments, and demonstrate the gender gap is a function of changes
in both men’s and women’s macropartisanship.
Keywords
gender gap, partisanship, elite cues

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