WASHINGTON -- They are the most
sought-after voters, the ones who can make or break presidential
campaigns. But when it comes to knowing facts about politics, women
inexplicably lag behind men.
That conclusion, reached in a study by the Annenberg Public
Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania, is true for questions on
such general issues as nuclear test ban treaties or which candidate was a
prisoner of war.
But it also is true on several issues that have traditionally been
identified as being of interest to women, issues such as where the
Democrats stood on abortion rights.
In fact, out of 25 questions about specific issues in this year's
presidential campaign or the backgrounds of four major presidential
candidates, women outperformed men on only one: a question about the
Democratic candidates' positions on public financing of campaigns.
``The perplexing finding that women do not perform as well as men on
political knowledge still persists in the year 2000,'' said the report,
released Monday and written by Kathleen Hall Jamieson, a political
scientist at the University of Pennsylvania, and Kate Kenski, a student.
A missed message
It's unusual in part because the presidential candidates
in both parties this year are catering to female voters, aiming their
agendas, speeches and ad campaigns at them. The candidates know they
probably will split the male vote, and that the one who wins the women's
vote therefore will win the presidency.
The ``gender gap in political knowledge'' is also hard to explain, the
authors of the report said, because women, who make up 53 percent of the
electorate, have been steadily increasing their participation in politics
over recent decades.
``Since 1980, women have voted either at the same or at a higher rate
than men,'' the study said. ``Educational attainment is now comparable
between the sexes. There is greater female presence in the labor force.
And the number of women seeking political office has risen.''
Jamieson said one possible explanation is that women and men discuss
``Men talk with one another at work about politics,'' she said. ``Women
don't have that same socialization. It's a function of how women talk
Women tended to get more answers wrong than men, Jamieson said,
regardless of age, race, income, education, marital status or party
identification. One theme common to either gender, she said, is that the
more people relied on local TV news for information, the less informed
they were. ``Local news-watching makes you dumber,'' Jamieson said.
The study did find one sign of change, however dubious.
During the 1996 campaign, women and men reacted differently when they
did not know the correct answer to political questions. Then, too, men
were more likely to answer correctly. But women did not get the answers
wrong; they were more likely to say they did not know the answer.
This time, women jumped in with answers, but were still more likely to
get them wrong.
The study, which was based on polls taken Dec. 14, 1999,
and March 13, 2000, asked women and men 25 questions about the backgrounds
of Democrats Al Gore and Bill Bradley and Republicans George W. Bush and
John McCain as well as about their stands on several issues.
It found men answered correctly often more than women in 15 questions.
They were right about the Democrats' positions on universal health care, a
nuclear test ban treaty, abortion rights and President Reagan's tax cuts
as well as identifying which Democrat was a former senator, which was the
son of a former senator and which was a former basketball player.
The men also fared better when asked about the Republicans' stands on
the test ban treaty, ethanol tax breaks, instant gun checks, a ban on
``soft'' campaign contributions and which candidate was a governor, a
senator and a former prisoner of war.
It found no difference between women and men in how
often they selected correct answers to nine questions.
The questions were about the Democrats' stands on college savings
accounts and HMO lawsuits, and about the Republicans' stands on a
constitutional amendment against abortion, school vouchers, medical
savings accounts, missile defense, gay marriage, raising the retirement
age for Social Security and the Russian attack on Chechnya.