The macro politics of a gender gap

Paul M. Kellstedt, David A.M. Peterson, Mark D. Ramirez

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

34 Scopus citations


What explains the dynamic movement in the gender gap in public opinion toward government activism over the past 30 years? The thermostatic model of politics suggests that aggregate public opinion adjusts to liberal changes in public policy by preferring less government and to conservative changes in policy by preferring more government. Given the cross-sectional differences in policy preferences between men and women, we argue that the dynamic movement in the gender gap in policy preferences for more or less government spending is a function of asymmetrical responses by men and women to changes in public policy. We find that both men and women respond to changes in public policy by shifting their policy preferences in the same direction. But men appear more responsive to policy changes than do women. It is this asymmetrical response to changes in public policy that is responsible for the dynamics of the gender gap in policy preferences across time. Our results show that the gap increases when policy moves in a liberal direction, as men move in a conservative direction at a faster rate than women. In contrast, when policy moves to the right, the opinions of both men and women will respond by moving to the left, but the greater responsiveness among men will decrease the gap, bringing male preferences closer to the preferences of women.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)477-498
Number of pages22
JournalPublic Opinion Quarterly
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 1 2010
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Communication
  • History
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • General Social Sciences
  • History and Philosophy of Science


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