Perhaps the Clinton campaign's internal polling had, by this weekend, made it clear just how poorly Hillary Clinton was doing among New Hampshire women. Maybe that triggered some kind of distress signal broadcast to Clinton's high-profile female supporters and surrogates. Maybe that helped set in motion the entire Madeleine Albright-Gloria Steinem-Hillary Clinton fiasco this week.
But now, with the New Hampshire primary done, Clinton's rather dire situation with women — particularly young white women in that state — is pretty clear for all to see.
Clinton did not simply lose New Hampshire on Tuesday night to Sen. Bernie Sanders (Vt.) by around 20 points; she also narrowly lost New Hampshire women to Sanders, too. In fact, early exit polling indicated that Clinton lost the quest for female voters to Sanders. Late Tuesday night, Sanders led her among women by around 10 points, according to exit polls reported by CNN.
That's right. The group that the Clinton campaign and — if we are honest — many a political prognosticator long assumed would form a strong contingent of Clinton's voters due, at least in some part, to the thrilling prospect of casting votes that might help to put the first woman in the White House, appears to have opted for Sanders instead.
In Iowa on Feb. 1, Clinton did manage to pull off a narrow, if contested, overall victory and won Iowa women by a more comfortable 11-point margin. Clinton earned 53 percent of Iowa women's votes, compared to the 42 percent of women who voted for Sanders in that state. But in New Hampshire, that did not hold up, at all.
At the same time, let's not oversell the importance of women in one state. In fact, there's little about Clinton's problems with female voters that clearly begin in 2016.
In 2008, Clinton lost women to Barack Obama in Iowa, claiming 30 percent of the female vote, compared to Obama's 35 percent. New Hampshire delivered a reversal of Clinton's fortunes with women that year, with 46 percent of that state's women casting a primary ballot for Clinton and 34 percent for Obama. Then, in South Carolina, a few weeks later, Obama won 54 percent of women's votes and Clinton claimed a relatively small 30 percent.
Are the tense and hard-fought days of the 2008 Democratic primary race beginning to come back to you now?
Of course, this is not 2008. It is 2016, and Clinton faces a far different opponent with a different kind of platform. Clinton herself said during her New Hampshire concession speech Tuesday night, that she had some work to do to attract young voters (actually what we know is these are primarily young, white voters).
Sanders, though, appears at this early juncture to be more polarizing for the genders than was Obama, who had clear and demonstrated appeal to female voters that often rendered a pretty small gender gap. In the early contests of 2008, men and women often voted for Clinton and Obama in similar numbers, rather than women tilting more for Clinton and men for Obama. Now, the gender gap is more real, so Clinton needs women.
Still, there is likely one bit of modestly uplifting news for the Clinton campaign that can be gleaned from Sanders's more-than-respectable performance in Iowa, overall win in new Hampshire and what appeared late Tuesday to be a victory in the contest for New Hampshire women's votes. And that is this: The populations of New Hampshire and Iowa look nothing like those in South Carolina and Nevada.
In other words, Clinton has lost women before, and she may again. And while they'll continue to be a big part of her base of support, the biggest demographic indicator of what happens from here on out is likely to be non-white voters.