Hillary and her female issues

hillary closerThe big political news in the Democratic Party is that Hillary continues to hang on to the loyalty of a majority of the party’s voters.

However, there are old dark clouds on the horizon when it comes to the public at large. The best-known candidate in the world continues to have very high negative ratings. That led to this interesting — in my opinion, haunted — story in The New York Times, with the headline “Women Supportive but Skeptical of Clinton, Poll Says.”

As a rule, I am not a fan of poll stories. Here is the top of this one:

Women view Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton more favorably than men do, but she still faces skepticism among some women, especially those who are older and those who are married, according to the latest New York Times/CBS News poll.

Women hold more positive views than men of all the leading Democratic candidates. But winning the support of women, who made up 54 percent of voters in the last presidential election, is especially important to Mrs. Clinton, who has sought to rally them behind her quest to become the nation’s first female president.

The poll found that over all, women tend to agree with her on the issues and see her as a strong leader and as a positive role model.

… But the poll also held some warning signs for Mrs. Clinton, 59, the junior senator from New York.

Forty percent of voters view her unfavorably, more than for any of the other major candidates for president (although they are not as well known). Neither men nor women fully trust that she is saying what she really believes, the poll found.

Mrs. Clinton’s choices as a woman and a political figure have been intensely scrutinized during her 15 years on the national stage, and as she runs for president, the debate about her remains polarizing, politically and culturally.

The key here is to try to define the lines of division among American female voters. That’s where the story is — figuring out the precise nature of these fault lines.

Later in the story we get some hints.

Among all registered voters, 46 percent of women have a favorable view of Mrs. Clinton, while 33 percent have an unfavorable view. The rest are undecided.

… The support for Mrs. Clinton is most pronounced among unmarried and less affluent Democratic women. More than 8 in 10 working women say she understands their problems.

The older the woman, the more negatively she views Mrs. Clinton: 27 percent of those under age 45 view her negatively; 33 percent of those 45 to 64 view her negatively; and 40 percent of those 64 and older view her negatively.

No real surprises here, either.

However, there are two other factors that the story does not seem to consider — although, let me stress, this is probably a weakness in the language of the source poll.

First of all, anyone who studies American religion realizes that there are far more women in the mainline and even evangelical pews than there are men. At the same time, the big story of the past two or three elections was the “pew gap” factor, which established that the more people went to church (especially among white voters), the more they tended to vote for the GOP.

Thus, it would have been interesting to know the role that religion plays among Clinton’s divided female voters. I predict that religion is a strong motivator on both sides of the division — with many of her strongest supporters in the party’s elites being women who are either fiercely anti-religious or very passionately active in the religious left and oldline Protestant world.

And what about abortion rights?

Once again, this forces us to consider numbers that are always skewed by the wordings in specific polls. But the Right to Life movement is, as a rule, led by women and the divisions among American women on this issue are very similar — no surprise — to the divisions on Ms. Clinton. Yet the story is silent on this issue.

There is no way to deal with the friends or the enemies of Hillary Clinton without facing these two issues. And the Democratic Party is not as united on abortion as many think, other than at the elite levels.

Stay tuned.

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About tmatt

Terry Mattingly directs the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. He writes a weekly column for the Universal Syndicate.

  • Joseph Fox

    We can assume a portion of those women who have a negative view of Hillary Clinton are Republican women. Clinton doesn’t have to have those and I think she is smart enough not to woo them. Abortion rights are obviously important to some folks but there are more pressing issues facing the country just now. One of which may be: Can we take a chance on another Methodist just now? I haven’t seen a journalist touch that one yet. Mormon and Catholic questions are common but mostly on things related to marriage of one type or another and reproductive issues. Has Bush’s Methodist faith influenced his war decisions and would Hillary’s Methodist faith lead down the same path.

  • Chip

    I would take issue with the characterization that Clinton is the best-known candidate in the world. The “Rush Limbaugh” caricature is well known, but it doesn’t fit with her voting record, her speeches, the way she campaigns, etc.

    The people I know who have a negative view of Clinton have a hard time articulating any reasons why beyond “I just don’t like her” or “she’s a socialist.” Those were the initial reactions of New York voters in the 2000 election, but as the conservative upstate voters got to know her, those negatives became less important.

    Thus, it would have been interesting to know the role that religion plays in Clinton’s divided female voters. I predict that religion is a strong motivators on both sides of the division — with many of her strongest supporters in the party’s elites being women who are either fiercely anti-religious or very passionately active in the religious left and oldline Protestant world.

    I don’t think that those who are anti-religious make up much of her support. Clinton is too conservative on a range of issues, from Iraq to issues dealing with sexuality. Democratic activists are the ones who do know her, and they realize that she is the most conservative of the Democratic candidates.

  • Jill C.

    “Can we take a chance on another Methodist just now?” is more pressing of an issue than abortion? Sorry, Joseph, you lost me there. (And I’m a woman.) And besides I don’t think Methodists are necessarily dove or hawk. Despite what the United Methodist Church’s national stance might be I don’t think an individual member is any more likely to lean one way or another.

  • cheryl

    I’m scratching my head at that headline. Is it possible to be “supportive but skeptical?” Doesn’t skepticism imply a lack of support?

    I’m a 47-year-old female, socially conservative, Democratic (swing!) voter and the only person who has asked my opinion about the upcoming election is my 13-year-old daughter. She asked me whether I’d vote for Hillary Clinton. Wouldn’t I like to see a woman elected president for the first time, she wondered?

    I replied that it would be great to see a woman finally elected president, and while I like Hillary Clinton as a person and think she’d make a strong leader, I unfortunately won’t be voting for her…based primarily on her positions on the critical life issues that factor heavily into my voting decisions. There are many important things to take into consideration when deciding who to vote for, I explained to my daughter, but a candidate’s positions on the issues that deal with the most basic human and civil right–the right to life–are ultimately more important than whether a candidate is male or female. And Hillary Clinton, along with Obama and Edwards for that matter, is on the wrong side of just about all of those issues.

  • SouthCoast

    Lessened support for Clinton amongst older women is not, I believe (being 56), a matter of conservative vs. whatever so much as it is the reflection of the fact that, after these many decades of life, we realize that a woman politician is… a politician. Male or female, politicians as a species are out for themselves, and not out for the general good, other than as an incidental effect of their efforts.

  • Rathje

    There was this female reporter (wish I could remember her name…) who appeared on NPR news discussing a book she wrote after she found herself puzzled about the results of Kerry vs. Bush and set out to gather some anecdotal evidence. She basically toured across America talking to women from all walks of life.

    Her conclusions:

    1. Contrary to the MSM’s assertions about “security moms” voting for Bush based on his stronger image, security really didn’t seem to factor largely into the voting of women – at least not half as largely as expected.

    2. The number one decider for many women was abortion.

    3. The Democrats, by embracing abortion have basically crippled themselves, possibly permanently. An awful lot of committed Catholic democrats – women who “still cross their arms reflexively when asked if they are Republican” – felt that the Democrats abandoned them. They would come flocking back in a heartbeat if the Democrats fielded a candidate who wasn’t pro-abortion. They don’t like the GOP, but they feel they have no choice at the moment.


    Look, I’m not really too thrilled about one-issue voting. But this issue just resonates. I’m a Democrat myself. But I’ve affiliated that way in spite of the Left’s embrace of the pro-choice movement, not because of it.

    Personally, I think the election would belong to the first Democrat candidate to distance himself/herself from abortion. The party has hamstrung itself over this issue. And I think that what’s really going on underneath this story is abortion.

    If I were king I’d toss the whole albatross back to the states and let them fight it out over the next 20 years. Go back to Truman’s party and start rehabilitating the religious credibility of the party.

    But it isn’t going to happen. Every last Democrat frontrunner has absolutely, uncritically, and unquestioningly thrown in with the pro-choicers.

    Their loss.

  • Dan Berger

    Rathje, the problem is that Democratic primary voters are overwhelmingly pro-choice. And given the current system, nobody who doesn’t do well in the first half-dozen primaries can be elected president.

    Bring back the smoke-filled room!