Steven Walters

Gov. Walker’s Gender Gap

Men approve and women disapprove of him by large margins. Could that decide 2014 election?

By - Jul 29th, 2013 10:11 am
Gov. Scott Walker

Gov. Scott Walker

The newest Marquette University Law School poll noted a gender gap in support for Republican Gov. Scott Walker, who will seek a second term next year. Specifically, the July Law School survey found:

  • 54 percent of men who responded approved of Walker’s on-the-job performance, and 39 percent of them disapproved – a positive margin of 15 points.
  • Among women respondents, 43 percent supported Walker and 52 percent did not – a negative margin of 9 points.

Because Walker’s overall approval rating was only 48 percent with 46 percent disapproving, it is tempting – and too easy – to conclude that those numbers suggest that women voters could decide whether the 46-year-old Republican governor wins a second term in November 2014.

After all, women cast about 52% or 53% of votes statewide, estimated Marquette Law pollster and professor Charles Franklin. That’s one reason some Democrats hope Mary Burke, a Madison School Board member and former Commerce Department secretary for Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle runs against Walker.

Or, you could avoid drawing any major conclusions from the Law School poll, since the 48 percent-to-46 percent margin on the approve/disapprove Walker question is within the survey’s 3.7 percent margin of error.

Still, the question remains: Does any “gender gap” problem for Walker with women voters pose a potential major problem for his re-election?

Polling pro Franklin, who joins Marquette Law School faculty this fall after teaching for decades at UW-Madison’s Political Science Department, is the best one to answer that question. Franklin promptly warned against using the new poll to say Walker’s lagging support among women could cost him a second term.

The first thing to remember, Franklin said, is that “women contribute to Democrats in two ways: higher turnout and usually are pro-Democratic leaning…” But, he added, “In a case like the current Walker poll, the men are so much more lopsided in favor of Walker that they offset the less lopsided women’s Democratic lean — and by enough to make up for lower turnout.”

With men supporting Walker by a 15-point margin, while women disliked the governor by a 9-point margin, that’s a 6-point margin, which more than offsets the traditional higher turnout of women voters.

Overall, Franklin said, “We think of the gender gap as due to women’s preferences, and often that’s true, but in the current data we see that men also contribute to the gender gap — and may do so even more lopsidedly than women. “In 2014 the questions will be how well a Democratic candidate can draw women even more heavily than is now the case, and if men continue to show such a strong preference for Gov. Walker. Both sides of that coin will count in the end.”

Democratic leaders hope to appeal to women voters next year by accusing Walker and Republican legislators of launching a “war on women.”

For example, Democratic Party Executive Director Maggie Brickerman said this when Republicans passed a bill, which Walker signed into law, requiring an ultrasound before an abortion and imposing new professional requirements on physicians who perform them:

”Scott Walker Republicans in the state Senate today put Wisconsin in the ranks of states like Alabama and Mississippi by voting to mandate medically unnecessary procedures and the reading of a state-authored shaming script for women seeking safe, legal abortions.

“This fast-tracked, radical overreach into the lives – and bodies — of Wisconsin women undermines the ability of women and their doctors to make private medical decisions, and is a crippling blow to women’s ability to access comprehensive reproductive healthcare.

“…This bill has everything to do with advancing a rigid, extreme ideology that boosts Scott Walker’s credibility with Tea Party supporters in his campaign for president.”

Jonathan Wetzel, a spokesman for the governor’s re-election campaign, did not respond to a question about Walker’s lagging support among women. Instead, Wetzel issued this statement: “Gov. Walker has balanced a $3.6 billion deficit, cut income taxes, and Wisconsin has seen its best two year job growth in a decade. We’re confident that all voters want to continue moving forward, and have no desire return to the failed policies of the past.”

Ironically, the Marquette Law School poll found the opposite gender gap for President Obama. More women approved of Obama’s job performance than men.

Steven Walters is a senior producer for the nonprofit public affairs channel WisconsinEye. This column reflects his personal perspective. Email

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