The Washington Post

Women love Hillary Clinton. Men? Not so much.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton pauses as she bids farewell on her last day in office at the State Department in Washington February 1, 2013. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

If you think gender issues and the so-called "war on women" were at the forefront in the 2012 campaign, just wait until 2016.

It's a given that, if Hillary Clinton were to run and win the Democratic nomination, her gender would be a major subplot of the campaign. Such is the case when we're talking about the potential first female president.

What folks haven't tuned into, though, is how polarizing a Clinton candidacy would be between men and women.

Witness the new Washington Post poll, which shows Clinton remains popular and would of course be a strong contender to keep the presidency in Democratic hands.

What it also shows, though, is that her candidacy could split the genders in a way we haven't seen in decades -- at the very least.

It's a given in politics today that men will vote more Republican, while women will vote more Democratic. That has consistently been the case for a long, long time. But with Clinton at the top of the ticket, that pronounced split could turn into a chasm.

The Post poll shows that women say they would support Clinton by a striking 61-33 percent. Men, though, say they would back her by a far smaller count of 49-46 percent -- within the margin of error. That's a 25-point gap between Clinton's margin among women and among men.

Similarly, the Post earlier this year polled a general election matchup between Clinton and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R). The numbers there were quite similar, with Clinton leading 59-34 among women, but Christie leading 49-46 among men. That's a 28-point gap.

Were either of those scenarios to play out on Election Day 2016, they would be the biggest gender gaps since at least 1980.

Here's how that looks visually, using the Christie head-to-head numbers and comparing it to gender gap data from the Rutgers Center for the American Woman in Politics. (A Democratic advantage stretches to the left and a Republican advantage stretches to the right.):


And here are the gender gaps -- with 2016 being a projection, of course -- by election:


The previous biggest gender gap was 22 points, in the 2000 race between George W. Bush and Al Gore. The 2012 election featured the second-biggest, at 18 points. (As we've noted, that race wasn't all that unusual when it comes to the gender gap, despite that whole GOP "war on women" narrative from Democrats.)

What's perhaps most striking among the new numbers is that the difference lies almost completely among white voters. Non-white men and women are pretty similar when it comes to the former secretary of state, but while 58 percent of white women back Clinton, 54 percent of white men oppose her.

Drilling down further, the difference is even more pronounced among whites without college degrees. In this case, women support Clinton by 22 points, but men oppose her by almost the same margin -- 21 points.

This is particularly striking, given non-college-educated white women tend to favor the GOP. And it suggests that Clinton's gender gap might be more about how strong she is with this particular class of women rather than how much she struggles among men.

But Clinton's gender gap is really nothing new. Washington Post-ABC News polls at the tail end of the 2008 Democratic primary campaign showed a gender gap of between 26 points and 28 points in a potential matchup with John McCain.

These polls were conducted at a time when Clinton was significantly less popular than she is today, and the gap was still about the same. That suggests that, if the 2016 race were close, Clinton's support among women and men would likely drop in similar proportions -- and the unprecedented gender gap would remain intact.

Now, it should be emphasized that these are early polls, and gender attitudes toward Clinton and the GOP nominee can and would change if that were the matchup.

But it's also clear that, were Clinton to run, the gender narrative wouldn't be restricted to Clinton's status as the potential first female president; it could also very well play out in a huge way when it comes to the votes cast.

And if the race is anything close to competitive, it's quite probable that Clinton would struggle significantly with male voters and rely heavily on women.

Scott Clement and Peyton Craighill contributed to this post.

Aaron Blake covers national politics and writes regularly for The Fix.



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