Competing partisan views on how we see men and masculinity are emerging as key factors in the run-up to the 2024 election.
Two books published last year — very different in tone — Senator Josh Hawley’s “Manhood: The Masculine Virtues America Needs” and Richard Reeves’s “Of Boys and Men” — have focused public attention on this debate.
Hawley approaches the subject from a decidedly conservative point of view.
“No menace to this nation is greater than the collapse of American manhood,” he declares, placing full blame “on the American left. In fact they have helped drive it. In power centers they control, places like the press, the academy and politics, they blame masculinity for America’s woes.”
More and more young men are living at home with their parents, apparently incapable of coping with life on their own. As for jobs, fewer and fewer young men have them. In 2015, nearly a quarter of men between the ages of 21 and 30, historically a cohort strongly attached to work and the labor force, had no work to speak of. These men had not engaged in labor during the previous 12 months. At all.
Reeves paints a similarly downbeat picture of the state of men, but contends that the solutions lie in an expansion of the liberal agenda. “Men account for two out of three ‘deaths of despair’ either from a suicide or overdose,” Reeves writes, and in fact
Young men are five times more likely to commit suicide than young women. The wages of the typical man are lower today than in 1979. Boys and men of color, and those from poorer families, are suffering most. In part, this reflects a dramatic reversal of the gender gap in education. In fact, the gender gap in college degrees awarded is wider today than it was in the early 1970s, just in the opposite direction. But there is also a big gap in what might be called personal agency: men are now only about half as likely as women to study abroad or sign up for the Peace Corps; much less likely to buy their own home as a single adult; and half as likely to initiate a divorce. In advanced economies today, women are propelling themselves through life. Men are drifting.
Reeves and Hawley have quite dissimilar causal explanations for this phenomena — as do so many Republicans and Democrats. Let’s take a look at a July survey, conducted by Ipsos for Politico, “The Best Way to Find Out If Someone Is a Trump Voter? Ask Them What They Think About Manhood.”
“It turns out ideas about gender and masculinity can be reliable indicators of how people vote by party and by candidate,” Katelyn Fossett, an associate editor at Politico Magazine, wrote in an article describing the poll.
In blunt terms, the poll asks, “Do you agree or disagrees with the statement ‘The Democratic Party is hostile to masculine values?’” Republicans agree, 68-8; Democrats disagree, 62-6.
One of the core differences between Republicans and Democrats lies in their views on family structure. Ipsos asked respondents whether they agreed or disagreed with the statement, “Traditional family structure with a wage-earning father and a homemaking mother best equips children to succeed.”
Republicans agree 52-24; Democrats disagree 59-16 — once again mirror images of each other.
A similar level of partisan disagreement emerged on responses to the statement: “The MeToo movement has made it harder for men to feel they can speak freely at work.” Republicans agree 65-10; Democrats disagree 43-21.
These differences are then reflected in key policy issues.
For example, “Do you support or oppose increased military spending?” Republicans support it, 81-11; Democrats modestly oppose it, 47-40. Or “Laws that limit access to firearms?” Republicans oppose them, 67-28; Democrats support them, 87-10.
The substantial 22-point gender gap found in the 2022 election pales in comparison to the policy and attitudinal differences found in the current Ipsos/Politico survey.
Other polls provide further illumination.
In its 2022 American Values Survey, the Public Religion Research Institute asked a related question, “Has American society as a whole become too soft and feminine?” Among those surveyed, 42 percent agreed and 53 percent disagreed.
There was, however, P.R.R.I. notes, a “partisan divide on this question of nearly 50 percentage points: Approximately two-thirds of Republicans (68 percent) say society has become too soft and feminine, compared with 44 percent of independents and less than one in five Democrats (19 percent).”
What’s not clear in the data from the Ipsos/Politico poll is how these partisan differences on gender-linked issues will play out in November 2024.
There are a number of additional emerging trends that have clear partisan implications, including generational schisms.
In a July 10 Washington Post essay, “2024 Won’t Be a Trump-Biden Replay. You Can Thank Gen Z for That,” Celinda Lake, a Democratic pollster, and Mac Heller, a producer of political documentaries, describe the growing strength of young Democratic-leaning voters. “Every year,” they write,
About 4 million Americans turn 18 and gain the right to vote. In the eight years between the 2016 and 2024 elections, that’s 32 million new eligible voters. Also every year, 2-and-a-half million older Americans die. So in the same eight years, that’s as many as 20 million fewer older voters.
Which means that between Trump’s election in 2016 and the 2024 election, the number of Gen Z (born in the late 1990s and early 2010s) voters will have advanced by a net 52 million against older people. That’s about 20 percent of the total 2020 eligible electorate of 258 million Americans.
Why is that significant? These Gen Z voters are turning out in higher percentages than similarly aged voters in the past, and their commitment to a liberal or even progressive agenda has “led young people to vote more frequently for Democrats and progressive policies than prior generations did when of similar age — as recent elections in Kansas, Michigan and Wisconsin have shown.”
Both ideologically and demographically, these voters tilt sharply left.
The Lake-Heller op-ed continues:
About 48 percent of Gen Z voters identify as a person of color, while the boomers they’re replacing in the electorate are 72 percent White. Gen Z voters are on track to be the most educated group in our history, and the majority of college graduates are now female. Because voting participation correlates positively with education, expect women to speak with a bigger voice in our coming elections. Gen Z voters are much more likely to cite gender fluidity as a value, and they list racism among their greatest concerns. Further, they are the least religious generation in our history.
A February 2023 Brookings report, “How Younger Voters Will Impact Elections: Younger Voters Are Poised to Upend American Politics,” noted that “Younger voters should be a source of electoral strength for Democrats for some years to come.”
The authors, Morley Winograd, a senior fellow at the U.S.C. Center on Communication Leadership and Policy, Michael Hais, a consultant, and Doug Ross, a former Michigan state senator, argued both that “Younger Americans are tilting the electoral playing field strongly toward the Democrats” and “their influence enabled the Democrats to win almost every battleground state contest” in 2022.
The authors cited 2022 exit poll data for Georgia, Arizona, Nevada, New Hampshire and Pennsylvania showing a consistent pattern: Voters 45 and older cast majorities for Republicans while those 18 to 44 backed Democrats by larger margins.
There are, conversely, developments suggesting gains for the Republican Party.
On June 8, Gallup reported a steady increase in the percentage of Americans who describe themselves as “social conservatives” — from 30 percent in 2021 to 33 percent in 2022 to 38 percent this year. The percentage describing themselves as very liberal on social issues fell from 34 to 29 percent.
Among Republicans, the percentage describing themselves as social issue conservatives rose from 60 in 2021 to 74 in 2023. More important politically, social issue conservatism among independents, who are most likely to be swing voters, grew from 24 to 29 percent from 2021 to 2023. The share of social issue conservative Democrats remained unchanged at 10 percent.
In another signal of possible troubles for Democrats, Gallup reported last week that the percentage of Americans describing immigration as “a good thing for the county” had fallen to 68 percent this year from 77 percent in 2020. The percentage describing immigration as a “bad thing for the country” rose from 19 to 27 percent over the same period.
On a different, and perhaps more revealing, question, Gallup asked whether immigration should be increased, kept the same or decreased. From 2020 to 2023, the percentage saying “decreased” grew sharply from 28 to 41 percent. The share supporting an increase fell from 34 to 26 percent.
Gallup created a measure it calls “net support for increased immigration” by subtracting the percentage of those calling for a decrease in immigration from the percentage of those calling for an increase.
From 2020 to 2023, net support among Democrats fell from plus 38 to plus 22 percent. For Republicans, net support fell from minus 34 to minus 63 percent. Among the crucial block of self-identified independents, support fell from plus 6 to minus 12 percent.
2022 exit polls show that voters who take conservative stands on social issues and those who are opposed to immigration vote by decisive margins for Republican candidates.
There are other forces pushing voters to the right. One unanticipated consequence of the opioid epidemic, for example, has been an increase in Republican support in the areas that suffered the most.
In a paper published this month, “Democracy and the Opioid Epidemic,” Carolina Arteaga and Victoria Barone, economists at the University of Toronto and Notre Dame, found that an analysis of House elections from 1982 to 2020 revealed that “greater exposure to the opioid epidemic continuously increased the Republican vote share in the House starting in 2006. This higher vote share translated into additional seats won by Republicans from 2014 and until 2020.”
Not only did exposure to increased opioid usage correlate with higher Republican margins, it “was accompanied by an increase in conservative views on immigration, abortion and gun control and in conservative ideology in general,” Arteaga and Barone write.
The two economists used an ingenious, if depressing, method quantifying opioid usage by measuring different geographic levels of cancer deaths: “The opioid epidemic began with the introduction of OxyContin to the market in 1996,” they write. One of the key marketing strategies to boost sales of OxyContin was to concentrate on doctors treating cancer patients:
We start by showing the evolution of prescription opioids per capita by cancer mortality in 1996. Commuting zones in the top quartile of cancer mortality in 1996 saw an increase of 2,900 percent in oxycodone gm per capita, while areas in the lowest quartile experienced growth that was one-third of that magnitude.
There is, Arteaga and Barone write, “a positive and statistically significant relationship between mid-1990s cancer mortality and shipments of prescription opioids per capita. The connection between cancer mortality and opioid shipments tracks opioid-related mortality.”
This linkage allowed Arteaga and Barone to use cancer mortality rates as a proxy for opioid use, so that they could show that “a rise of one standard deviation in the 1996 cancer mortality rate corresponds to an increase in the Republican vote share of 13.8 percentage points in the 2020 congressional elections.”
There are other less disturbing but significant developments emerging from growing partisan hostility.
As Democrats and Republicans have become increasingly polarized, three political scientists have found that partisan schadenfreude, or taking joy in the suffering of others, has gained strength among both Democrats and Republicans.
Partisan schadenfreude is a powerful predictor of voting intentions in the United States. Moving from below the median to above the median on our schadenfreude measure predicts an increase of approximately 13 points.
Americans voters “are not averse to supporting cruel candidates,” according to Webster, Glynn and Motta. “A significant portion — over one-third — of the mass public is willing to vote for a candidate of unknown ideological leanings who promises to pass policies that ‘disproportionately harm’ supporters of the opposing political party.”
Among those high in schadenfreude, they continue, “cruel candidates are not merely passively accepted. On the contrary, for this subset of Americans, candidate cruelty is sought out.”
I asked Webster whether schadenfreude was stronger in either party and he replied by email:
It is hard to say whether Democrats or Republicans are more prone to partisan schadenfreude. This is because we measured schadenfreude in slightly different ways according to one’s partisan identification. Democratic schadenfreude was measured after subjects saw a vignette of a Democrat losing government-provided health insurance following a vote for a Republican; Republican schadenfreude was measured after seeing a vignette about voting for a Democrat and losing take-home pay in the wake of tax increases.
There was, Webster continued, “a clear pattern: both Democrats and Republicans express partisan schadenfreude, and this attitude is most pronounced among those who are ideologically extreme (i.e., liberal Democrats and conservative Republicans).”
I also asked whether or not a candidate signaling willingness to punish opponents would see a net gain or loss of votes. Webster replied:
We find that most Americans do not register an intention to vote for candidates who promise legislative cruelty. It is only among those individuals who exhibit the greatest amount of schadenfreude that we see an acceptance of these candidates (as measured by a willingness to vote for them). So, there is certainly a trade-off here. If political consultants and candidates think that their constituency is prone to exhibiting high amounts of schadenfreude, then campaigning on promises of legislative cruelty could be a successful tactic. As in most cases, the composition of the electorate matters a great deal.
While partisan schadenfreude is present among voters on both sides of the aisle, among politicians the two most prominent champions of its usage are Republicans — Donald Trump and Ron DeSantis — and they share the honor of being most willing to adopt policies to hurt Democratic constituencies to win support.
On the assumption that turnout will be key in 2024, the 2022 elections sent some warning signals to Democrats. In an analysis published earlier this month, “Voting Patterns in the 2022 Elections,” Pew Research found that
The G.O.P. improved its performance in 2022 across most voting subgroups relative to 2018 — due almost entirely to differential partisan turnout. Voters who were more favorable to Republican candidates turned out at higher rates compared with those who typically support Democrats.
These trends were visible in Hispanic voting patterns:
A higher share of Hispanic voters supported GOP candidates in the 2022 election compared with in 2018. In November 2022, 60 percent of Hispanic voters cast ballots for Democrats compared with 39 percent who supported Republicans. This 21-point margin is smaller than in 2018, when 72 percent of Hispanic voters favored Democrats and 25 percent supported Republicans” — a 47-point margin.
Among Hispanic voters who cast ballots in the 2018 election, 37 percent did not vote in the 2022 midterms. Those who did not vote had tilted heavily Democratic in 2018 — reflecting asymmetric changes in voter turnout among Hispanic adults.
If Biden and the Democratic Party allow the turnout patterns of 2022 to define turnout in 2024, Biden will lose, and Republicans will be odds-on favorites to control the House and Senate.
Trump is a master of turnout.
In large part because of Trump, voter turnout in 2020 — measured as a percentage of the voting-eligible population —- was the highest in 120 years, at 66.7 percent.
Trump is the Democrats’ best hope. In the past three elections — 2018, 2020 and 2022 — when he was on the ballot, either literally or through a candidate surrogate, he brought out Democratic voters by the millions, reminding a majority of Americans just what it is that they do not want.