Two pollsters delivered some good news and some bad news for aspiring female candidates yesterday.
The good news, highlighted in a news conference by Irene Natividad, head of the National Women's Political Caucus (NWPC), is that American voters "believe that women candidates . . . are as capable as men, or more so," for any office on the ballot, including the presidency.
The bad news, buried in the tables and text of the report from Democratic pollster Harrison Hickman and Republican pollster Linda DiVall, is that an "unspoken bias" against female candidates, expressed "across all party groups and among both men and women," gives a male candidate an 8-point head start in the typical race.
Both pollsters said they were surprised by the finding that female candidates have a 14-point edge when it comes to holding down government spending, although men have a narrow advantage in dealing with deficits and a large lead on tax policy.
The May survey of 1,502 voters was described by Natividad as the first national study "designed to help women candidates understand how they are perceived by the voters and to tell all candidates . . . what women voters are looking for in a candidate."
Asked at the news conference what the survey means for Rep. Patricia Schroeder (D-Colo.), who is exploring a possible race for the Democratic presidential nomination, Natividad said, "There's an electorate out there" for someone who combines what the poll showed to be women's "natural advantage" on issues of compassion with Schroeder's "technical mastery" of the defense field from her years on the House Armed Services Committee.
But, Natividad cautioned, "it all depends on a candidate being able to run a highly professional campaign."
The polling had a complex and equivocal message for potential female candidates at all levels.
Natividad spotlighted the finding that "even at the presidential level . . . 57 percent of the electorate believe a woman would do as well as or better than a man."
The pollsters' report showed that 49 percent said a woman would do the same job, 8 percent said she would do a better job, but 31 percent said a woman would do worse -- a net deficit of 23 points.
The same deficit showed for every other job surveyed except school board member, where women were rated 15 points better than men.
Women face a 17-point disadvantage for vice president, deficits of 10 to 13 points for senator, governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general or mayor, and single-digit handicaps for the House, the state legislature or city council.
Most of those surveyed -- 69 percent -- refused to make a choice simply between a male and a female candidate in a hypothetical matchup. But when partisan identification is combined with gender, DiVall and Hickman said, it "clearly reveals the existence of an unspoken bias against female candidates. Male Democrats defeat female Republicans by 15 points in this matchup, while female Democrats run one point behind the male Republicans.
"In fact, if one holds partisanship constant and only compares the sex differences in the candidates' descriptions, the Democratic and the Republican candidates each run an average of 8 points higher when described as male."
Natividad pointed to another set of questions, showing the sample preferred a candidate who supports the Equal Rights Amendment to an opponent of ERA by 63 percent to 14 percent, and one endorsed by feminist groups to one opposed by them 53 percent to 19 percent.
In 1984, the NWPC endorsed the Democratic ticket of Walter F. Mondale and Geraldine A. Ferraro.