What Do Women Want? Hillary Clinton, Not So Much.
There's no mystery about why women are lukewarm on a backward-looking, mediocre pol: Gender is thankfully not as big a deal as it used to be.
"I'm Not With Her: Why women are wary of Hillary Clinton," a new story in The Guardian, lays out the meh reception the former secretary of state is receiving from female voters. While Clinton gets the biggest share of overall support from women, it turns out that she actually loses that edge among millennials, with Bernie Sanders taking the gold. "Millennial women now back Sanders by a jaw-dropping 61%-30%," writes USA Today.
Donald Trump has tons of baggage when it comes to wooing female voters, but as The New York Times noted in April, Clinton was only pulling 50 percent of white women, compared to 39 percent for him.
Why the lukewarm support for Clinton, who stands to be the first female president? Among younger women, gender is not as big a deal as it is for women who approach Clinton's age; the younger you are, the less hampered by old prejudices and customs you're likely to be. Indeed, even around the globe, the latest data shows that women working the same job as men make just 1.6 percent less than their male counterparts. That's real progress from the early 1970s, when Clinton entered the workforce. And while the United States has never had a women president, many countries have and women occupy any number of high-profile and high-status roles in the public and private sectors. That might not represent pure numerical equality, but it also blunts the focus on gender as a selling point.
From the Guardian:
"I'm sure for a certain class of women [Hillary Clinton] is perfect," says Changa, who has lived in Harlem and Chicago's South Side and was a single mom throughout college. "But there are a lot of issues that affect low-income women, immigrant women and women of color that her brand of doing things is not going to address."
On the right, women are repulsed by Clinton for different reasons. The Guardian talked with Joy Pullman, a former Ted Cruz supporter, who said:
"[Clinton's] message is that if women don't follow her script for being a good woman, 'well sucks to you, you can just pay taxes to pay for all the ladies who do.'"
Pullmann thinks Clinton, as an ambitious politician, is out of touch with most American women's family values and cringes at the presidential hopeful's attempts to "play up her maternal and feminine soft side".
Thinking back to the 2008 race, I was struck by a clear generational divide among the Democratic women I knew. If they were over 45 or 50, they were totally devoted to Hillary. Younger than that, and Barack Obama was their choice. Of course, there are older women who despise Hillary as well, either for her specific politics or for a perceived lack of back-in-the-day feminism. As Camille Paglia, arguably the harshest critic of Clinton, told Reason:
Hillary is a mess. And we're going to reward the presidency to a woman who's enabled the depredations and exploitation of women by that cornpone husband of hers? The way feminists have spoken makes us blind to Hillary's record of trashing [women]. They were going to try to destroy Monica Lewinsky. It's a scandal! Anyone who believe in sexual harassment guidelines should have seen that the disparity of power between Clinton and Monica Lewinsky was one of the most grotesque ever in the history of sex crime. He's a sex criminal! We're going to put that guy back in the White House? Hillary's ridden on his coattails. This is not a woman who has her own career, who's made her own career! The woman who failed the bar exam in Washington! The only reason she went to Arkansas and got a job in the Rose law firm was because her husband was a politician.
But once Clinton secures the nomination, will her numbers among women go way back up, to the levels of support that Obama drew among blacks in 2008? Probably not that high (which approached 100 percent, for at least a few reasons. First, the experience of African Americans is different than that of women and blacks reliably vote in the 90 percent range for Democrats. The gender gap in presidential races has definitely been in the Democrats favor in recent elections, but George W. Bush essentially split the female vote with John Kerry in 2004 (48 percent to 51 percent) and his father actually bested Michael Dukakis in 1988. Reagan crushed Mondale among women in 1984 and tied Jimmy Carter in 1980. Not only have Republicans shown an ability to win among women, when they lose, the swing is nowhere as big as the racial gap.
And despite Trump's crude and ugly comments regarding women in various settings, he's not giving up the female vote. It may well backfire on him, but by raising rape allegations against Bill Clinton and foregrounding Hillary Clinton's supposedly preferential treatment based on gender ("If Hillary Clinton were a man, I don't think she'd get 5 percent of the vote," he's said), he's refusing to concede women. From the Times:
"He is 'Swiftboating' her by throwing shade on what should be a strength," [GOP consultant and pollster KellyAnne] Conway said in an email, referring to the 2004 attacks on John Kerry's war record, which turned a strength into a weakness and diverted attention from President George W. Bush's own vulnerabilities.
Ms. Conway added that Mr. Trump could sully Mrs. Clinton's record of advocacy on issues like pay inequity by saying she has accomplished too little on them. "Next he'll say, 'Ladies: She shares your gender and nothing else,' " Ms. Conway said. "'It takes you years to earn what Wall Street paid her for a single 25-minute speech that wasn't even that interesting.'"
Whatever the reasons, it turns out that so-called Vagina Voters, women who will vote for any female candidate over any male candidate, are likely smaller in number than they once might have been. That may be tough luck for Hillary Clinton, but it's also evidence of real social progress, too, when a candidate is not automatically considered to be the anointed representative of whatever group or class they might represent.