Gender Gap: Voting Choices in Presidential Elections

A gender gap in voting refers to a difference between the percentage of women and the percentage of men voting for a given candidate, generally the winning candidate. Even when women and men favor the same candidate, they may do so by different margins, resulting in a gender gap. In every presidential election since 1980, a gender gap has been apparent, with a greater proportion of women than men preferring the Democrat in each case. The magnitude of the gender gap has ranged in size from four to twelve points since 1980. The “women’s vote” is the percentage point advantage that one candidate has over the other among women voters- that is, the difference in support for the major party candidates among women voters only.

In every presidential election since 1996, a majority of women have preferred the Democratic candidate. Moreover, women and men have favored different candidates in presidential elections since 2000, with the exception of 2008 when men were almost equally divided in their preferences for Democrat Barack Obama and Republican John McCain. In 2020, a majority of women favored the Democratic victor, Joe Biden, while a majority of men voted for the Republican candidate, Donald Trump.

Data illustrate that women are not a monolithic voting bloc. Across white, Black, Latinx, and Asian American voters, women are more likely than men to report voting for the Democratic candidate. However, a majority of white women have voted for the Republican candidate since the 2000 presidential election when white women were almost equally split between Democrat Al Gore and Republican victor, George W. Bush. In contrast, a large majority of Black, Latinx, and Asian women have supported the Democratic candidate for the entirety of the time period in which data disaggregated by gender and race has been available.

To directly access the data presented below, please download the following Excel file: Gender Gap Exit Poll Data

Methodology and Sources:

All Edison and Voter News Service (previously known as Voter Research and Surveys) national exit poll data presented here for the years 1992-2020 is archived at Cornell University’s Roper Center. Edison/Voter News Service did not conduct national exit polls prior to 1992. All CBS/New York Times exit poll data from 1980, 1984, and 1988 is archived at Cornell University’s Roper Center. From 1980 to 1988 major media outlets conducted separate exit polls. While not presented here, exit polls conducted by ABC News/Washington Post and NBC News showed gender gaps of similar magnitude to those evident in the CBS/New York Times polls. In 2020, for the first time in nearly two decades, major media outlets relied on more than one election survey to analyze voter behavior in the presidential election: Edison Research’s national exit poll and the Associated Press’ VoteCast (conducted by NORC). In light of differences between these surveys and their sampling limitations, CAWP’s analyses of gender and voting behavior in 2020 consider trends across these surveys and findings from Latino Decisions, recognized for its more sophisticated and robust sampling of racial minority voters and a methodology that includes greater respondent access to multi-lingual surveys than the Edison exit poll, and the Cooperative Election Study (CES).