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Widening Gender Gap Helps to Give GOP Election Edge : Politics: Democrats are facing problems attracting male voters, who are turning their anger with Clinton to party.

October 29, 1994|RONALD BROWNSTEIN | TIMES POLITICAL WRITER

WASHINGTON — If there's a secret ingredient in the high octane political mix fueling the Republican advance this fall, it might be testosterone.

In races across the country, Democrats are facing substantial--in some instances enormous--deficits among male voters. Indeed, in many statewide elections, the ability to attract men may be the principal agent of natural selection between Democrats who survive in this autumn of their discontent and those who are swept away.

The problem appears especially intractable for several Democratic women in high-profile races--such as Texas Gov. Ann Richards--but it is hardly unique to them. Democrats in every region of the country, of every ideological persuasion, are having man trouble. "Men have turned away from Bill Clinton," said Democratic pollster Celinda Lake, "and now they are turning away from the (Democratic) party."

Republican success with men has always been the flip side of the more highly touted gender gap: the tilt toward Democrats among women that first emerged during the Ronald Reagan era. But this year, the Republican advantage among men has opened to levels that are striking even by recent political history. And in most races it is too large for Democrats to overcome even by running well among women, who typically constitute just over half of all voters. "This year, what's really problematic is (that) the deficit with men is so great that the advantage with women can't make it up," Lake said.

Disaffection with Clinton, sympathy for hard-line Republican appeals on issues like crime and taxes and greater resistance to activist government have combined to move men sharply toward the GOP this fall, pollsters in both parties said. "Men tend to express themselves in anger at the President; women express themselves in fear about the future," said GOP pollster Frank Luntz. "And anger tends to produce a much more Republican vote."

That trend is apparent in both national numbers and individual races. In 1992, women were somewhat more disposed than men to support Democratic congressional candidates but the differences were modest: 56% of women and 51% of men voted Democrat for Congress that year, according to a Los Angeles Times exit poll. Gallup Organization Inc. surveys in 1986 and 1988 found similarly slim differences between men and women in their congressional voting preferences.

But now a chasm has opened between the generic voting intentions of men and women in the congressional campaign. In a Times Poll conducted last week, women preferred Democratic over Republican congressional candidates by six percentage points. Men, in sharp contrast, preferred Republicans over Democrats by 18 percentage points.

"These are the biggest gender gaps in history," said Stanley B. Greenberg, Clinton's pollster. "It is big, big."

Big enough to affect not only contests involving liberal Democrats, who have often had trouble with men, but more moderate and conservative party members with political profiles that ordinarily might appeal to male voters.

For liberals, trouble with men is widespread. The most recent public poll in Ohio shows Democratic senatorial nominee Joel Hyatt narrowly leading Republican Lt. Gov. Mike DeWine among women; but DeWine holds a solid 10-point overall advantage because he is crushing Hyatt by 17 points among men. In New York, Gov. Mario M. Cuomo's comfortable lead among women voters is more than offset by a 16-point deficit among men, producing a statistical dead heat in his race against Republican George Pataki, according to a new poll by the Marist Institute of Public Opinion.

Moderate Democrats are not faring any better. Oklahoma Rep. Dave McCurdy, the Democratic senatorial nominee against conservative Republican Jim Inhofe, wears cowboy boots, touts his tough line against welfare recipients and stresses his support for the military installations in the state. He even has run a television ad showing him riding in a pickup truck with a shotgun on the rack behind him. No matter: While McCurdy still leads among women, Inhofe has surged into the lead by running up a 15-point advantage among men, according to the most recent public survey.

Likewise, moderate Democratic Rep. Jim Cooper is facing a 15-point gap among men with folksy Republican lawyer/actor Fred Thompson in their Tennessee Senate race; in Arizona, Republican Rep. Jon Kyl leads Democratic Rep. Sam Coppersmith by 25 points among men, according to a survey completed last week. Both Democrats trail overall.

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