Hillary Clinton and the Gender Gap

CQPolitics has a long if inconclusive article examining the possible impact of a Hillary Clinton nomination on the women’s vote in the general election. Specifically, would women–who are already predisposed to vote for Democratic candidates–be more likely to turn out to vote for a woman? And would that so-called Gender Gap increase if there were a woman on the ballot?

There’s no guarantee that a larger turnout of Democratic women would automatically create an environment favoring Clinton and other Democratic candidates. In 2004, President Bush won re-election despite a high turnout of women voters, who marginally favored his Democratic rival, Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts. But the fact that women are a majority of the electorate — generally 51 percent to 54 percent of voters in national elections over the last 10 years — and that they tend to favor Democrats, and particularly women candidates, makes the prospect of a higher turnout for Clinton a wild card for the next election.

“I do think party trumps gender, but when you’ve got those kinds of numbers on your side — wow,” said Karlyn H. Bowman, a public opinion researcher at the American Enterprise Institute. “It’s going to be something people are going to have to pay attention to.”

Kathleen Dolan, an associate professor of political science at the University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee who has studied women voters, said she’s not convinced that women will cross party lines in droves to vote for Clinton. But she does see the potential for a shift if single women, whose turnout tends to be lower than married women, show up in larger numbers. She and other researchers will be watching closely to see if that happens.

“There is this untapped, unmobilized bloc of single women who might have Democratic tendencies and who haven’t been drawn into the process, but could be drawn in by the Clinton candidacy,” said Dolan. “That’s impossible to predict. But the potential is there.”

There has never been a serious female candidate for president, so we have no data. The results are mixed for lower level officers such as governor, mayor, or Senator. And there is some thought that even women would be reluctant to vote for a woman as commander-in-chief of the armed forces during wartime.

A forthcoming article in Public Opinion Quarterly reportedly finds that people lie to pollsters on the subject for fear of appearing sexist.

Virtually equal percentages of male and female respondents were upset by the prospect of a female president, and nearly equal percentages also were found among respondents with different levels of education. “You would think educated people, younger people and females would be less upset about the prospect of a female president,” Streb said. “That doesn’t appear to be the case.”

There will certainly be people who refuse to vote for Hillary Clinton because she’s a woman, just as there will be people who vote for her solely for that reason. Logically, though, there is a much larger class of people likely to have a pro-woman bias than the reverse.

FILED UNDER: 2008 Election, Environment, Gender Issues, Public Opinion Polls, , , , , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Imagine if this was reversed and say Condi Rice in 2008 or Elizabeth Dole in 2000 got the nod by the GOP. Can you imagine the MSM talking up the idea that an unseen block of voters are going to come out of the woodwork to vote for a candidate because she is a woman?

    Voting for a candidate because of their height, gender, color, etc is a pretty shallow reason. Reasonable people can differ on whether Hillary Care would have been a good or bad thing for the country. I think it would be bad and if the democrats are able to get it passed, it would be tossed out within 10 years with the democrats as the majority of voters won’t accept the degradation of care compared to what they get now. Voting for or against Hillary and her vision of expanding government to take away your choice is at least doing her the courtesy of judging her on her positions on problems. Voting for or against her because she lacks the diversity of chromosomes should be considered insulting to both her and the voter.

  2. DL says:

    Get ready for a couple of punative years of listening to about the “mommy vote.”

  3. Wayne says:

    “Voting for a candidate because of their height, gender, color, etc is a pretty shallow reason.” That is true. Unfortunately I know many who do. I knew some who wouldn’t vote for Dole because he shook with his lift hand, divorce his first wife or that Clinton was good looking. It is sad but never the less it is true.
    Most would deny it if you ask them directly ? but if you listen to you can tell the truth.