Clinton Owes Lead in Poll To Support From Women
Tuesday, June 12, 2007
The consistent lead that Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York has maintained over Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois and others in the race for the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination is due largely to one factor: her support from women.
In the most recent Washington Post-ABC News poll, Clinton led Obama by a 2 to 1 margin among female voters. Her 15-point lead in the poll is entirely attributable to that margin. Clinton drew support from 51 percent of the women surveyed, compared with 24 percent who said they supported Obama and 11 percent who said they backed former senator John Edwards of North Carolina.
Clinton is drawing especially strong support from lower-income, lesser-educated women -- voters her campaign strategists describe as "women with needs." Obama, by contrast, is faring better among highly educated women, who his campaign says are interested in elevating the political discourse.
Campaign advisers say they expect Obama to pick up support from all categories of voters once they get to know him better, and that could change the structure of the race. But for now, women appear to be playing an outsized role in shaping it and could tip the scale toward the winner.
In 2004, women made up a majority of the Democratic primary electorate, including between 54 and 59 percent in the early-voting states of New Hampshire, Iowa and South Carolina.
"Women are a significant proportionate share of the Democratic primary electorate in most of these states, and women are disproportionately in favor of Hillary Clinton," said Mark Mellman, a veteran Democratic pollster who is not affiliated with any presidential campaign.
If Clinton wins the Democratic nomination, however, the general election may be a different story. In a Post-ABC News poll conducted in April, 43 percent of female independents said they definitely will not vote for her if she is the Democratic nominee, compared with 29 percent who said the same about Obama.
In the meantime, Obama and Edwards see potential openings among female Democrats.
Betsy Myers, the chief operating officer of the Obama campaign, who served as director of women's initiatives and outreach in Bill Clinton's administration, said she expects women to see the appeal of a candidate who takes a new approach to politics.
"Women are tired of the polarization of politics, and Barack is such a uniter," she said. Women, she said, "are tired of people not getting along."
Unwilling to cede any part of the female vote to Clinton, Obama has launched a "women for Obama" campaign and is heralding "Obama moms," and Edwards has released a long list of female supporters in Iowa and elsewhere.
"The excitement of Hillary's candidacy, the historic nature of it, is capturing the attention of women -- there's no question about that," said Kate Michelman, an abortion rights advocate who is leading Edwards's effort to attract women to his campaign. But, Michelman said, "eventually, gender will recede a bit from the foreground. It will recede a bit in its singular, driving importance. And women will be looking at the values, the views, the competence, the electability of a candidate."