WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Women have consistently been more likely than men to say they approve of President Barack Obama's job performance since his administration began in January 2009. Regardless of changes in the president's overall approval rating over the past three years, which has ranged from a monthly low of 41% to a high of 66% among all Americans, the gender gap each month has generally held steady at about five to six percentage points. Most recently, in April, 50% of women approved of Obama's performance, vs. 44% of men.
Gallup data from May 3-7 show Obama with an eight-percentage-point lead over Republican rival Mitt Romney among women nationwide, while Romney leads Obama among men by 12 points. Controversies over funding for contraception and abortion have led Democratic leaders to accuse Republicans of being insensitive to women's concerns. However, the trends above suggest that Obama's current advantage among women reflects long-term differences, rather than any recent shifts among women generated by these debates -- at least through April.
Additionally, the gender gap is not unique to Obama -- trends dating back through the Bush and Clinton administrations show that women are consistently more likely than men to approve of Democratic presidents, and men, in turn, are more likely to approve of Republican presidents.
Gender Gap Related to Party Identification
Women's greater likelihood than men to approve of Obama is related to two aspects of party identification. First, women are significantly more likely than men to be Democrats, while men are more likely than women to classify themselves as political independents. About one in three women (34%) identify themselves as Democrats vs. about one in four men (25%), in Gallup Daily tracking surveys through the first four months of 2012. Because Democrats are much more likely than Republicans or independents to approve of Obama, this helps explain some of the gender gap in presidential approval.
Within each of the two major parties, the gender gap virtually disappears. That is, Republican women are not significantly more likely than Republican men to approve of Obama, and the same is true of Democratic women vs. men.
However, the other aspect contributing to the gender gap is that women who identify as political independents are slightly more likely than their male counterparts to approve of Obama. Here also, the gap has been consistent since the early days of Obama's presidency, at about four percentage points. Forty-six percent of female independents in April 2012 approved of Obama, vs. 42% of male independents.
Single and Highly Educated Women Most Likely to Approve of Obama
Gallup's long-term trends also reveal consistent differences by subgroup in women's likelihood to approve of Obama's job performance. Those differences are particularly evident in terms of marital status; since the start of the current administration, single, never married women have been much more likely than married women to approve, with divorced women falling in between. Approval has been rising among all three groups in tandem over the last six months, offering little evidence that the recent flap over contraception has disproportionately influenced single women.
These differences are partly a function of single women's younger average age -- young Americans of both genders are more likely than their elders to approve of the president. That's not the whole story, however, as single women within each age category are more likely than married women to say they approve. That may be because marriage is associated with a number of factors that predict the more conservative values associated with the Republican Party, including higher religiosity.
The gender gap in presidential approval is widest among Americans at higher income and education levels. Among the least-educated Americans, for example, men and women are similarly likely to approve of Obama, while there are substantial gender gaps among college graduates and those with postgraduate education. Almost two-thirds of women with postgraduate education (64%) approved of Obama's job performance in April, compared with 53% of men, putting the former on par with single women as one of the president's most supportive demographic groups.
Long-term trends in presidential approval show that Obama's advantage among women isn't a function of his own appeal or that of his administration's policies, but partially relates to the fact that women tend to be more Democratic than men in their party orientation and, accordingly, more favorable toward Democratic presidents. These structural differences have been remarkably consistent through overall changes in the president's approval rating, and through the recent controversy over contraception.
The question remains as to whether the gender gap will be a significant factor in this year's presidential election. It may be, as the Obama campaign addresses the challenge of encouraging high motivation and high voter turnout among all women, while maintaining the preference gap he enjoys among independent women. Additionally, Obama will need to convert much of his approval among younger, single women -- a group that would generally be less likely to vote than older women -- into support at the ballot box.
Explore President Obama's approval ratings in depth and compare them with those of past presidents in the Gallup Presidential Job Approval Center.
Results are based on telephone interviews conducted as part of Gallup Daily tracking April 1-30, 2012, with a random sample of 14,731 adults, aged 18 and older, living in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia.
For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±1 percentage point.
Interviews are conducted with respondents on landline telephones and cellular phones, with interviews conducted in Spanish for respondents who are primarily Spanish-speaking. Each sample includes a minimum quota of 400 cell phone respondents and 600 landline respondents per 1,000 national adults, with additional minimum quotas among landline respondents by region. Landline telephone numbers are chosen at random among listed telephone numbers. Cell phone numbers are selected using random-digit-dial methods. Landline respondents are chosen at random within each household on the basis of which member had the most recent birthday.
Samples are weighted by gender, age, race, Hispanic ethnicity, education, region, adults in the household, and phone status (cell phone only/landline only/both, cell phone mostly, and having an unlisted landline number). Demographic weighting targets are based on the March 2011 Current Population Survey figures for the aged 18 and older non-institutionalized population living in U.S. telephone households. All reported margins of sampling error include the computed design effects for weighting and sample design.
In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.
For more details on Gallup's polling methodology, visit www.gallup.com.