Given that it’s APSA week, here’s a piece in PS: Political Science and Politics by Laura Olson and John Green on “gapology”, the fixation on gaps in electoral behavior. (The piece introduces a special issue on gaps.)

All manner of political observers are fascinated by “gaps” in voting behavior. Whether it is the now-famous gender gap, the newly discovered religion gap, or the once prominent generation gap, sharp differences in partisanship and voting behavior often emerge around commonplace demographic characteristics such as gender, worship attendance, and age. These gaps are not just intrinsically interesting; they also offer a potent way to understand election results. Like batting averages in baseball, such simple statistics offer the power of language in describing the political world.

Of course, most people understand that such voting “gaps” represent oversimplifications of the complex reality of voting behavior. But it is precisely such complexity that makes “gapology” so attractive: it connects something of compelling importance (such as who was elected president) with some key facts of everyday life (people’s most obvious characteristics).

Voters respond to these gaps. They conceive of themselves as belonging to one group or another, and these feelings of group membership affect their voting choices—and therefore who is elected to political office. As a consequence, voting gaps become touchstones for political journalists and their readers. Even more importantly, they become basic metrics used by political professionals (the pollsters, consultants, and campaign managers who conduct today’s campaigns). Even political scientists find voting gaps fascinating. It is a rare election analysis that does not begin with a tabulation of the vote and demography—and an inspiration for research on the social bases of the vote.