Bush gains ground with women

Latest poll shows the gender gap is at its narrowest since the president took office.

First the good news for the White House: During the past six months, President Bush has narrowed the gender gap by stabilizing his political support among American women.

Then the bad news: The president's popularity among men has simultaneously declined.

When Mr. Bush captured the Oval Office, he won primarily because 53 percent of male voters threw him their support. Women overwhelmingly backed his opponent, former Vice President Al Gore.

Today, men and women's views about Bush are converging as the president's style, policies, and priorities come into focus.

Virginia Sapiro, an expert on gender politics at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, says with a chuckle that men are finally catching up to women.

Bush's political challenge

Republican presidents generally get a political boost from men on "masculine issues" like foreign policy, military strength, and perceptions of leadership. Women often are drawn to Democrats because of "soft issues" such as the environment, education, and government assistance.

While Bush is still doing relatively well with men, criticism of his policies by European leaders and their refusal to follow his leadership are raising doubts among men, Dr. Sapiro says. The softer economy also hurts the White House.

Earl Black, an expert on Southern politics at Rice University in Houston, says Bush is finding it difficult to hold his base among men - particularly white Southern men and union workers - while "reaching out to moderates, and that means women."

"The political dynamics of that are just very tricky," Dr. Black says. "[President] Reagan did it. But Bush does not have Reagan's communication skills."

Bush's political challenge is reflected in the latest Christian Science Monitor/TIPP poll conducted July 12-16.

The president's job-approval rating, which stood at an index score of 74 among men in May, skidded to 66 in June and 61 in July.

Meanwhile, among women, Bush actually rose slightly from a score of 55 in June to 57 in July. (An index rating of 50 is considered neutral. Scores above 50 are positive.)

On leadership, where Bush has previously done better among men than women, the two genders were virtually identical in the July Monitor/TIPP poll, with men and women giving him an index of 54 and 53, respectively.

The sexes share concerns

Interviews with 911 Americans during the survey turned up several new developments. The survey had a margin of error of plus or minus 3.3 percent.

While Bush usually garners higher approval from men on key issues like the economy and foreign affairs, much of that margin melted away this month.

On the economy, for example, men and women ranked Bush's performance almost identically. The same was true for education issues, foreign affairs, managing the budget, and Medicare reform.

Raghavan Mayur, the TIPP president who conducts polls for the Monitor, says a soft economy, increasing layoffs, and a gloomy stock market all tend to affect the views of men more than women.

Sapiro, a political scientist, says women focus on government services because so much of the burden of raising children, educating them, and caring for the sick and elderly falls on their shoulders.

Job for job, women are also more likely to be employed in the public sector, so they are more supportive of public spending, she says.

Sapiro explains that it is not unusual for men and women to divide on election day, but to gravitate toward similar views as a new president settles into his term.

Men and women saw Bush and Vice President Gore through different eyes during the campaign, with men seeing Bush as "a

real guy, someone they could trust ... not a nerd with his nose in a book," she says. To women, Gore was someone who "seemed to care more about their issues."

Now, men and women are beginning to share concerns about the new president, including his closeness with big business.

Phil Fuggetta, a real estate appraiser from San Jose, Calif., says he particularly feels uncomfortable with Bush's energy and foreign policies. "[President Bush] has been involved in the energy business, and I think he's not doing anything on energy without lining his pockets. I could be wrong.... I hope I'm wrong."

Linda McCorkindale, a computer programmer from Winston-Salem, N.C., raises similar concerns: "He's doing exactly what I anticipated.... His refusing to join the world on the [Kyoto Protocol] shows that he's in it to line his pockets and protect his friends in business."

Not that the two sexes see Bush entirely the same way. Men still give Bush higher grades for strengthening the military and cutting taxes - issues that don't resonate as strongly with women.

Also, despite some disappointment among men with the size of the recent tax cut, 28 percent of men expect the US economy to improve in the next six months. Only 16 percent of women expect things to get better.

Staff writer Steven Savides contributed to this report.

(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Monitor

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