The term “gender gap” entered public discourse in 1980. Journalists, pundits, and pollsters combed through polling data and noticed a difference in the percentage of women and men voting for Ronald Reagan. Activists were quick to frame the gender gap as a response to feminism. Women, supposedly angry that the Republicans reversed their stance on the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) and abortion, expressed their concerns at the ballot box.
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It’s a nice argument from anecdote, but the story line doesn’t fit the facts. As feminist scholar Jane Mansbridge documented, “Despite intuitive convictions to the contrary, the gender gap was largely traceable to gender-related differences in attitudes toward violence and war, while ‘the ERA and possibly abortion’ had essentially no role in the matter.”
The public may believe that abortion is the issue that most separates male and female voters, but numbers show otherwise. As Gallup summarized, “Over the past three decades, men and women have consistently held similar views about the extent to which abortion should be legal.”