Men win in the guessing game

The gender gap in voter turnout has mostly disappeared and women are now more likely to vote than men, said Melissa Miller, an assistant professor of political science.

Yesterday, Shannon Orr, an assistant professor of political science, joined Miller to host another Brown Bag Luncheon titled “What Women Want: The Gender Gap in Political Knowledge.”

The two have been heavily involved in analyzing why women tend to score lower on political knowledge surveys even though recent statistics show a rise in female political activity.

“Why do women persist on knowing less about politics than men?” said Miller. “And the question is especially troubling because we know that political knowledge is so important for democratic citizenship.”

Miller said having a strong political knowledge supports effective citizenship by stimulating and facilitating political participation, along with improving information processing and promoting issue-based voting.

“If you have some political knowledge, you are more likely to know how to go to get an absentee ballot or where to go on election day,” said Miller. “The more knowledge you have, the more likely you are to vote based on the issues rather than on your partisanship.”

In fact, Miller and Orr conducted a survey around campus and found women are consistently 20 percent more likely to answer each question incorrectly, based on historical, structural, situational and socialization factors.

“Women have been socialized away from politics which is typically viewed as a men’s sport,” said Miller.

Orr and Miller, however, have focused on the measurement factor involved, or how the questions are worded and then measured in the cumulative total. Specifically, the political surveys make it clear that if a respondent doesn’t know the answer, they can and should answer “I don’t know.”

The problem, therefore, becomes whether men or women are more likely to take a guess.

“The interviewer has just given the respondent an easy out so that anyone who is a little hesitant about their knowledge will answer ‘I don’t know’,” said Miller. “If men are more likely to guess, then they will always score higher.”

Orr and Miller decided to conduct another survey to explore this factor. They sent out Web surveys to 2,000 undergraduates and randomly assigned each student to one of two ballots. The first ballot allowed the respondent to answer “I don’t know,” whereas the second ballot didn’t give that option.

The survey included a series of questions to make sure the respondents were literally identical in a number of ways. There were eight multiple choice questions asked.

The results showed there was only a 2 percent gap between men and women when they were not given the option to answer “I don’t know.”

Orr said that although women tend to have higher GPAs and also tend to feel as if politics greatly affect their lives, there are other negative factors involved. In fact, men are more likely to talk about politics and mothers are less likely to be as politically active as fathers, according to Orr.

“It is not that women know less or aren’t as intelligent,” said Orr. “We need, from the beginning, for girls to get an interest in politics.”