Women at the polls Gender gap: No major gains for women officeholders, but much influence on results.

November 08, 1996

THE NUMBER and quality of female candidates running for office around the country had raised expectations of significant gains in the number of women elected to major offices. But despite some notable wins -- two new women were elected to the U.S. Senate -- there will be no change in the Senate's gender ratio since two other women are departing, one to retirement and one because of a primary election defeat. Final results in the House are still pending. Meanwhile, in New Hampshire, voters elected their first female governor.

Overall, however, women wielded significant power in this election. Democrats first began touting the gender gap during the Reagan years, to little avail. This year, it finally paid off for them, with President Clinton winning a startlingly clear majority among women voters.

Men tended to split about equally for President Clinton and former Sen. Robert J. Dole, with each candidate attracting about 44 percent of the male vote. But the Clinton campaign's pointed appeals to women paid big dividends. Among women voters, 54 percent said they voted for President Clinton, while Mr. Dole attracted support from only 37 percent. Both parties recognized that the economy is a major concern for women. But the incumbent, with a relatively strong economic record, seemed a safer bet to more women than did Mr. Dole's offer of a 15 percent tax cut.

In fact, a stable economy resonated more strongly with women voters than did Republican attempts to attract support for "family values" issues, never fully spelled out by Mr. Dole. President Clinton's proposals on crime and education were modest, but they helped solidify his support among women. These issues, along with the economy, overshadowed the abortion debate, which got relatively little attention in the presidential campaign.

Women may not have made big gains as officeholders, but the election returns make it clear that no party can afford to ignore their power at the polls.

Pub Date: 11/08/96

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