Male-Female Split on Economic Issues Promises to Shape Midterm Elections

By Dow Jones Business News, 
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By Janet Hook and Nick Timiraos

WASHINGTON--Men and women are light years apart in their views of the economy and economic opportunity, differences that help explain a gap in their outlook on politics that could shape the midterm elections.

This week's Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll found that women are more in sync with Democrats on a range of economic issues, including minimum wages and concerns about growing income inequality. With Republicans holding substantial advantages this year, the Democrats' appeal among women could provide a bulwark against a political drubbing.

As members of the party that doesn't hold the White House, Republicans might ordinarily stand to gain most from the broad pessimism in the new poll that the nation is on the wrong track. But the poll found that women would prefer this fall's elections to produce a Democratic-controlled Congress, by a 51% to 37% margin--a 14-point gap. The reverse is true for men, who preferred a Republican Congress by 52% to 35%--a 17-point lead for the GOP.

"We are arguably headed to the largest gender difference people have seen in an off-year election," said Republican pollster Bill McInturff, who conducted the survey with Democratic pollster Fred Yang.

The success of Republican efforts to build support among white and suburban women voters could be the difference between a "really good cycle and a huge cycle" for the party this November, Mr. McInturff said.

Democrats in the Senate, meanwhile, have been trying to expand their advantage among women voters by advancing economic legislation that women tend to favor, such as a minimum-wage increase and equal-pay protections. They have nominated female candidates in the two Senate races--in Kentucky and Georgia--where they have the best hope of picking up a GOP seat.

The battle for women's votes has been front and center in Kentucky, where Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes has hammered Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.) with charges of being hostile to women's interests. In a blunt response, Mr. McConnell this week began airing a television ad featuring his wife, former Labor Secretary Elaine Chao, defending his record.

"Have you ever noticed how some liberals feel entitled to speak on behalf of all women--as if every woman agrees with Barack Obama," Ms. Chao, who served under President George W. Bush, says in the ad. "Alison Lundergan Grimes's gender-based attacks are desperate and false."

This isn't the first time that Democrats have tried in political campaigns to portray Republicans as waging a "war on women." But this year, they are putting more emphasis on economic issues as they continue to press on social issue such as abortion rights and access to contraception. The new Journal/NBC poll helps explain why that might be rich territory.

The poll found deep divisions between men and women on fundamental questions about the health of the economy and whether it is providing opportunities for all--issues that go far deeper than much of the jockeying for women's support that has marked the campaign lately.

"This isn't all about [abortion] choice and social issues," said Jared Bernstein, a former economic adviser to Vice President Joe Biden who is now a senior fellow at the left-leaning Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

Men and women differed sharply when asked whether they see the U.S. as a country where anyone regardless of their background can get ahead or, alternately, if a widening income gap is undermining the idea that all Americans can improve their lot. A majority of men said that anyone can succeed, compared to just 37% of women.

Those differences are "not just because women make less money. It's not educational," Mr. McInturff said. " Fundamentally, they have just very different views about economic opportunity."

Indeed, the gender split holds across age groups, marital status and educational backgrounds. A majority of both college-educated women and women who didn't attend college believe the income gap is undermining opportunity, as do more than 60% of women between ages 18-to-49 and above age 50.

Meanwhile, a clear majority of college-educated men and men over age 50 say the U.S. is a country of equal opportunity.

Because women "still do most of the child-rearing in this country, they may have more first-hand experience directly facing inequality-driven mobility barriers in their everyday life," Mr. Bernstein said.

In the new Journal/NBC survey, the share of respondents who say the U.S. is in a recession has dipped below 50% for the first time since the recession, which officially began in December 2007 and ended in June 2009. Still, a majority of women say the U.S. is still in recession. By comparison, just 43% of all men--and around 1 in 3 men between 18 and 34 years of age--say the economy is still in recession.

The divide may help explain why 70% of women think raising the national minimum wage to $10.10 per hour would boost the economy, compared to nearly half of men.

Even though Marcia Shimamoto doesn't think either party is looking out for the average worker, she hopes Democrats take control of Congress this fall because "they're a little more in touch with the average guy than Republicans."

Ms. Shimamoto, 53 years old, lost her job as a high-school math teacher in April and says she hopes to find work as a substitute teacher this fall. She lives in Monte Vista, Colo., with her husband and adult son--both are teachers--and two grandchildren. "My father was able to support five children and one salary. We're having trouble supporting two children on three salaries," she said.

Robert Friedman of Lawrence, N.Y., says the economy is improving by most objective measures but that the Federal Reserve, and not Mr. Obama, should get the credit. While joblessness is still a problem, "I feel like those who are working are relatively secure in their jobs," said the 40-year-old stock trader.

While he says he wouldn't give "high grades" to Republicans, he said he plans to vote Republican this fall because he doesn't think either party should control both the White House and Congress.


  (END) Dow Jones Newswires
  08-06-141521ET
  Copyright (c) 2014 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.


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