Many perspectives, 1 simple etiquette

Defining the Gender Gap: How Moral Dilemmas Play a Key Role in Voting Behavior

Author: David Yee
Created: 13 April, 2015
Updated: 15 October, 2022
3 min read
The difference between the male and female vote in elections has always been an issue that has baffled pollsters trying to predict the outcome.

Most of the time, the pollsters can tell definitively after the fact what reasons and issues were important to both men and women, but they have a difficult time predicting it while the election is still in play.

A new meta-analysis study accepted by the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin may shed some light on these differences, and offer a warning to candidates as they campaign.

Whether we like to admit it or not, politics often boils down to how we codify morality. We create laws that legalize or criminalize activities as a society defining right and wrong from an age-old process.

Certainly, this does not encompass all social norms, mores, or taboos. However, it is a part of the social process of determining morality.

This study reviewed 6,100 participant's answers to moral questions, ranging from extreme situations (like would you go back in time and kill Hitler) to very simple, everyday moral dilemmas.

Surprisingly, the results revolved around the age-old question of whether the ends justify the means.

In psychology, deontology is the principle that the morality of an action is dependent on its conformity to established moral norms. Conversely, utilitarianism is used to describe the phenomenon of an action being seen as moral based solely on the outcome of the action.

This study argues that women are more likely to base moral decisions based on established moral norms (deontology), while men are more likely to use an "ends justifying the means" rationale when faced with a moral question (utilitarianism).

Does This Hold True In Elections?

According to Gallup, the gender gap in the 2012 presidential election was the largest in history -- women strongly favored President Obama with a 20-point spread.

Almost prophetic, the GOP platform for 2012 stated in its preamble:

It will take honest results-oriented, conservative leadership to enact good policies for our people. They [Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan] will provide it.

And the Romney campaign arguably favored the approach of getting America "on track" at any cost.

But on the other side, President Obama very carefully campaigned on maintaining and improving the status quo on many issues important to women -- including the social safety net, abortion rights, progressive taxes, and mandatory contraception coverage.

Whether this difference helps create the huge spread between the two candidates is anyone's guess, but this study would suggest that it definitely played a part in the gender gap.

What Does This Mean in 2016?

Winning a presidential election at this point has become a strategy of appeasing and energizing the base, while winning over the center, independents, and swing voters.

Neither party has the total votes (at least in all of the right states) to outright win the election without the help of those "outside" the party structure.

The political map, as it stands now, appears to give the Democrats a significant lead, and some suggest as few as eight states will be battleground states.

Demographic shifts in minority populations will definitely play a key role in shaping the campaign strategies for both parties, but they simply cannot ignore the gender divide.

Campaigning strategies based on radical changes, charged by emotional pleas to "save" America are likely to lose the female vote; especially, when they threaten established social programs and women's rights issues.

The successful 2016 campaign will need to focus on how we can strengthen what is working, while still implementing positive, realistic changes to the issues that need fixed.

Photo Source: AP