Defend democracy in the South.

As we approach the fifth anniversary of the 9/11 tragedies -- and the November elections -- the Bush Administration has unabashedly moved to again make what was once called "the war on terror" his policy centerpiece.

But how does this play out at a time when only 14% of the U.S. population feels "more safe" than before the WOT, and 39% feel less so (46% feel merely "the same")? When violence in Iraq is increasing, not decreasing? When more people in the U.S. believe the country's military presence abroad should be decreased to counter terrorism, rather than increased?

Not so well, especially among some interesting demographic groups. For example, the Associated Press reports that troubles with foreign policy are helping to re-open the gender gap in the South.

Before I quote from the story, it's important to note that the AP piece makes the classic mistake of equating "Southern women" with "white women." Last year, Texas became the country's fourth "majority minority" state, and over 40% of the populations of Georgia and Mississippi aren't white. Women of color, who will soon be half the female population of these states, have never been strong supporters of Bush or the Republican Party.

That being said, the AP rightly observes that a defection of white Southern women from the GOP could be a key factor -- maybe the leading factor -- in determining the outcome of the mid-term elections, and that foreign policy is a leading cause of their disappointment:

In recent years, Southern women have been some of Bush's biggest fans, defying the traditional gender gap in which women have preferred Democrats to Republicans. Bush secured a second term due in large part to support from 54 percent of Southern female voters while women nationally favored Democrat John Kerry, 51-48 percent.

"In 2004, you saw an utter collapse of the gender gap in the South," said Karen Kaufmann, a professor of government at the University of Maryland who has studied women's voting patterns. White Southern women liked Bush because "he spoke their religion and he spoke their values."

Now, anger over the Iraq war and frustration with the country's direction have taken a toll on the president's popularity and stirred dissatisfaction with the Republican-held Congress.

Republicans on the ballot this November have reason to worry. A recent Associated Press-Ipsos poll found that three out of five Southern women surveyed said they planned to vote for a Democrat in the midterm elections. With control of the Senate and House in the balance, such a seismic shift could have dire consequences for the GOP.

The importance of this shift is especially important when you realize that the South is the region where the white gender gap has been most volatile. As Dr. Karen Kaufmann points out in her recent study (pdf) in the journal of the American Political Science Association,

Although the gender gap between White Southern men and women was a full 11 percentage points in 2000, it fell to only 5 points in 2004. Even more striking, the presidential vote gap in the South hit its lowest point in 40 years. Compared to White Southern men, Southern women chose Bill Clinton over Bob Dole by a 17-point margin in 1996 and preferred AlGore to George W. Bush by 9 percentage points in 2000. In 2004, however, Southern women favored Bush by a 2-point margin over Southern men. The collapse of the Southern gender gap was not mirrored else where. Outside of the South, the male-female divide in the vote actually increased slightly from a 9-point difference in 2000 to a 10-point difference in 2004.

In other words, the South is the only region where the white gender gap was temporarily "tabled" in the 2004 elections. But recent trends show it never goes away.

Chris Kromm

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Chris Kromm is executive director of the Institute for Southern Studies and publisher of the Institute's online magazine, Facing South.

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