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As Voters Age, Does the Gender Gap Shrink?

The latest meme from the campaign trail is the gender gap. This week, just about everyone - from CNN and the Christian Science Monitor to the Huffington Post and Salon - has been reporting that women are more likely than men to favor a Democrat over a Republican in the 2012 election.

It's a familiar story: Women have favored Democratic candidates for at least three decades. The news seems to be that there's some evidence of a bigger gender gap than in the past, and it could end up being a decisive factor in the 2012 campaign.

Interestingly, though, the gap seems to narrow with age.

Consider these findings from the Pew Research Center's most recent national survey:

  • Among voters under 50, 64 percent of women said they were leaning toward President Barack Obama over Mitt Romney, compared with 50 percent of younger men who said they favored Obama - a 14 percentage point difference.
  • Among voters 50 to 64, 58 percent of women were leaning toward Obama over Romney, compared with 50 percent of men - just an 8 percentage point difference.
  • The gender gap narrowed even further among voters 65 and older, with 48 percent of women and 47 percent of men leaning toward Obama and 49 percent of women and 46 percent of men leaning toward Romney.

In another Pew survey, pitting President Obama against Rick Santorum, 68 percent of younger women favored Obama - compared with 53 percent of younger men. In the 50+ demographic, 56 percent of women favored Obama - just slightly higher than the 53 percent of men who did. Not much of a gender gap there.

What to make of this? It may simply be that the issues most important to younger women aren't quite so important to their moms and grandmothers -  and that, as people age, the issue of economic security trumps all, without regard to gender. - Mary C. Hickey

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