A United Press International analysis of the results of election night surveys of 17,872 voters shows that much of the GOP's 5-percentage-point improvement in the House voting last year came from its increased appeal to women.
Republican candidates' share of the male vote grew from 54 percent in 2000 to 55 percent last November. Their fraction of the female vote, however, rose from 45 percent to 50 percent. This was the first time in several decades that at least half of women's votes went to GOP House candidates.
While women were somewhat less hawkish on Iraq and less libertarian about the role of the government at home, the most striking attitude difference was feminine foreboding. Women expressed more worry than men did to Voter News Service pollsters about terrorism, the economy and the stock market.
Gender gaps have tended to be smaller in elections during recessions, such as 1982, 1990 and 1992, and then widen when the economy is strong and worries are fewer.
It's not clear if the gender gap will remain as small as the 5-point margin in 2002. In the California recall, action movie star Arnold Schwarzenegger, a Republican, ran 8 percentage points better among men, and in last week's Mississippi gubernatorial election, the gap was 11 points.
Voting analyst Ruy Teixeira, co-author of "The Emerging Democratic Majority," pointed out to UPI that in midterm elections, the gender gap tends to be smaller than in presidential election years (other than in the 1994 election), when more unmarried women come to the polls.
Up through the 1960 Kennedy-Nixon election, women generally voted more heavily Republican than men did. This tendency began to reverse after more women entered the workplace. Eleanor Smeal of the National Organization for Women invented the term "gender gap" after the 1980 election.
During the ho-hum House elections from 1980 to 1992 when the Democratic dominance seemed preordained, the gender gap in voting for the House was only moderate in size, ranging from 3 percentage points to 6 percentage points, according to a New York Times exit poll.
Republican Newt Gingrich's successful 1994 "Contract With America" campaign excited men far more than women, raising the gender gap to 11 points. In 2000, it was 9 points.
The media has tended to view the GOP's difficulties attracting women's votes as a larger problem than the Democrats' equivalent struggles winning men's votes, although under the Constitution, both sexes' ballots are counted equally.
The enormous amount of publicity the gender gap has received is probably due in part to it being widest among the well-educated -- the people most likely to write and read articles about politics.
In reality, though, the celebrated gender gap is dwarfed by the seldom-mentioned disparity within each sex between the married and the unmarried. In 2002, 56 percent of married women voted for the GOP (similar to their husbands' 58 percent) compared to 39 percent of unmarried women (and 44 percent of unmarried men). There's an exceptionally large partisan difference between married women with children (58 percent Republican) and unmarried women with children (32 percent).
In last year's book "The Emerging Democratic Majority," John B. Judis and Teixeira argued that Democrats should benefit from long-term demographic trends because the numbers of well-educated women, single women, unmarried mothers, and working women have all been growing. These groups tend to be more liberal than other types of women, such as housewives.
Of course, the long run they envisioned didn't arrive in the short run of the 2002 election. One surprising reason was the proportion of women voters who work full time dropped sharply from 2000 to 2002. Whether that was a one-time aberration or the beginning of a trend won't be clear until the 2004 elections.
Among blacks, Republicans have traditionally done relatively better among men (11 percent voted Republican in 2002) than among women (8 percent), but a lot more black women than black men vote: 27 percent more last year. Civil rights activists have complained about the sizable number of black men who have lost the right to vote due to criminal convictions or imprisonment.
Among Hispanics, the gender gap has never really existed. The sexes vote alike.
Among the fairly small number of Asians in the 2002 exit poll, a reverse gender gap appeared with only 25 percent of Asian men voting Republican vs. 43 percent of Asian women. If this is not a one-year fluke, it may stem in part from the sizable number of Asian women who are married to white men.