The erosion of the gender gap in this election starkly illustrates Alan Brinkley's insights regarding how issues of class and values pose challenges for progressives and the Democratic Party. In the last two presidential elections, the Democratic candidate won among women fairly decisively, by 16 points (Bill Clinton) and 11 points (Al Gore), respectively. In contrast, John Kerry won women voters by a mere 3 points, 51 percent to 48 percent. Kerry's trouble with women is clearly rooted in the decline of support among white, blue-collar women for Democratic candidates, a trend that reached its low point to date in this election.
A new generation is coming of age in America and politicians ignore it at their peril. Generation Y, as it's been called, is expected to be as large as the Baby Boom Generation, and when the full group is of voting age, it could have as much political significance. It is a generation that has thus far shown itself to be disdainful of politics, cynical about political parties and more likely than any other age group to support third-party candidates. At the same time, these young people are engaged in the life of the community and expect to improve it. To write them off politically is to risk someone else mobilizing a sleeping giant.
The gender gap is commonly understood as a story about women. Since 1980 women, repelled by the Republican position on social justice, economic inequality, gun control, military issues, and reproductive rights, have voted and identified as disproportionately Democratic. This summer, as Gore languished, a different story emerged. Women seemed briefly willing to support a kinder, gentler Republican presidential candidate who talked about education, Social Security, and tax relief. However, in the post-convention period, women have returned to the Democratic fold with the enthusiasm we would expect given the policy differences between the candidates.
Isn't there something puzzling about our current political debate? With a popular Democrat having served two terms in the White House, the nation has seen sustained economic growth with low unemployment and low inflation. A well-qualified vice president is positioned to carry Democratic policies forward. If he were to gain Democratic majorities in Congress, he might be able to confront nagging problems such as inequality in the midst of prosperity.
Americans are profoundly ambivalent about abortion. A majority of
voters accept the formulation of the pro-choice movement that abortion should be
legal, safe, and rare. Yet most Americans consider the procedure distasteful and
will accept an array of restrictions on it, particularly if they see abortion as
undertaken lightly or irresponsibly. The public's very ambivalence gives the
anti-abortion forces a tactical advantage.