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Is There a Gender Divide in Californians’ Political Attitudes?

Sep 14 2018

 

The Women’s March in San Francisco on Jan. 20, 2017.   Steve Rapport via Flickr
 

By Benek Robertson
Political Science, 2020
Summer Research Fellow, Bill Lane Center for the American West

Out West Student Blog

Student Blog

To gauge statewide public opinion before the midterm elections, The Bill Lane Center for the American West polled adult Californians in the days preceding the June 5 primary. Assessment of the data by Professor Bruce Cain and senior researcher Iris Hui asserted the importance of female and independent voters in the upcoming election season.

With the general election approaching, I spent my summer researching certain aspects of this data in greater depth. Through this work, I hoped to highlight specific policy areas that could influence the general election and California politics for years to come.

Where Californian Men and Women Diverge

There were a number of policies where women had significantly different positions from men, even after controlling for commonly predictive demographic variables such as party affiliation, income, education, and race.

Using survey data about specific policy preferences, I took a closer look at the breakpoints between Californian women and men. There were a number of policies where women had significantly different positions from men, even after controlling for commonly predictive demographic variables such as party affiliation, income, education, and race.

In the chart below, attitudes toward the issues highlighted in red varied significantly by gender.

Chart: Gender and Policy Preferences in California

In salient policy areas, the men and women of California show significant differences in their opinions. Californians rate policy areas like immigration, gun control and climate action as strong influences on vote choice, and the gender gap in these areas further indicates the strong role that these policies are likely to play in upcoming elections. As depicted in the graphic, women took significantly more liberal stances than men in these policy areas. These are important issues that will likely influence outcomes in 2018, 2020, and beyond. In a primary setting, these policy positions are likely to influence vote choice; in a general election, these policies can drive up female voter turnout across the state.

On GOP Tax Reform, a Mixed Reaction

In many policy areas, public opinion in California is observed to be staunchly liberal. However, as discussed by Professor Cain, the 2017 passage of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act did not spur strong reactions. Cain describes reaction to the bill as “more muted and mixed.” Further analysis into the public opinion on specific aspects of the bill revealed where Californians felt strongly and where they were confused.

Table: Do you favor or oppose the following items in the recent tax bill?

Results from the online poll conducted between May 12 and 24, 2018 by YouGov. Topline results are available on this page.
Bill Lane Center for the American West/YouGov

Currently, no aspect of the bill garners a majority opinion. The relative apathy and confusion among Californians will likely change in 2019 when taxpayers file under the new tax law.

A plurality of respondents (37%) were unsure of their opinion on the $10,000 limit on deductions for state and local taxes, and there was no significant income or education effect. 37% were similarly unsure about increasing the standard deduction but eliminating many itemized deductions; the upper half of Californians in income were significantly less likely to support this policy. Similarly, the upper quartile of Californians were more opposed to lowering the home mortgage interest deduction to $750,000; overall, this policy had 39% support. Two areas of the tax bill that induced stronger opinions were: repealing the penalty for individuals who don’t purchase health insurance (43% support), and reducing the corporate tax rate (44% opposition). Opinion on these policies were not income-driven, but education level was a significant predictor.

Currently, no aspect of the bill garners a majority opinion. The relative apathy and confusion among Californians will likely change in 2019 when taxpayers file under the new tax law.

Differences in Environmental Action Across Gender

California women are significantly more liberal on environmental policies, but knowledge of this sentiment’s translation into action is limited.

California women are significantly more liberal on environmental policies, and this is a policy area reported as highly likely in determining vote choice. However, knowledge of this sentiment’s translation into action is limited. A 2016 statewide survey administered by the Bill Lane Center asks a series of questions relating to frequency of pro-environmental actions. These actions can be effectively categorized into two types.

  • One battery of eight questions asked about environmentally friendly everyday actions, such as using reusable bags or public transportation.
  • A second, six question survey block asked about environmental action in a political arena. For example, it asks if respondents have contacted a public official about an environmental issue.

These two realms of actions can be mapped effectively onto two axes, one for political actions and one for everyday actions. A four class latent class analysis, below, was employed to better observe possible underlying trends in environmental action.

Chart: Four latent class analysis

A latent class analysis of political action. Benek Robertson

There remains a strong gendered difference in areas of climate action. This runs somewhat counter to the previously observed trend of liberal female attitudes on the environment.

Strikingly, when respondents were categorized based on pro-environmental actions, a gender emerged. Both classes that took strong political pro-environment actions (the “Activist” and “Slacktivist” classes) were overwhelmingly male. On the other hand, there was a large subset (the “Politically Passive” class) that took little environmental action outside of their daily life. This class was predominantly female.

Women were much less active in a political arena regarding climate action. It is important to add that there was additional demographic variability within the latent class analysis, with education level and party affiliation also varying across groups. However, there remains a strong gendered difference in areas of climate action. This runs somewhat counter to the previously observed trend of liberal female attitudes on the environment.

Looking forward from this summer’s research, it will be interesting to observe the 2018 elections across California. Candidates who take strong public stances on issues like gun control, immigration and the environment may see more success in galvanizing female voters.

Read more at the Out West Student Blog »

 

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