Hillary Clinton and the Woman's Vote

Whatever one can say about Hillary Clinton, it cannot be said that she evokes lukewarm responses from people. Since her days as First Lady during the 1990s, Clinton has gained both a devoted following - and just as large a group of people who hold her in great dislike.

As anyone who follows American politics knows, there has been much talk about Hillary running for president in 2008. Like any good politician, she has declined to say for certain whether or not she'll run. (After all, the next campaign cycle is more than a year away.) She told Cynthia McFadden of ABC News back in September of this year, "I haven't made any decision about it."

Yet the war chest she amassed for this year's election was much more than she needed to beat her little-known Republican rival, and she spent $36 million on a race that was, by all accounts, in the bag. Blogger Brendan Nyhan speculates that either Hillary wanted to prove her electability before 2008 or that she thought it would look bad if she rolled most of the money raised for her Senate race into a presidential campaign.

Poll after poll shows that nearly as many people think Hillary can be elected president as those who think she can't. For example, a Newsweek poll taken November 9th and 10th of this year shows that 33% of respondents think she has a good chance, 20% think she has some chance, and 45% think she has no chance, with only 2% saying they're unsure. One thing going for Hillary is name recognition: she and Al Gore were the only potential candidates that all of the respondents had heard of. http://www.pollingreport.com/2008.htm

Back in 2004, 30% of America's voters were swing voters, and 55% of them were women.  Was George W. Bush really re-elected in 2004 because women put national security above everything else? If so, it goes to show how powerful women as a voting bloc can be. And so the question is: will women vote for Hillary if she runs in 2008? 

Conducting polls can be an excellent way to collect information, but pollsters don't get into the minds of the respondents. It's all well and good to find out if people will vote for a particular candidate, but it's much more interesting to discover why or why not. When it comes to the possibility of women voting a woman into the highest office in the land in the most powerful country in the world, it's probably more instructive to ask real women how they feel about Hillary. Many of us know what the celebrities and pundits think, but they are a minority. What do your neighbors think? What does your mother think? 

Here, you'll see a non-random sampling of answers to the following question I asked: Would you vote for Hillary Clinton in 2008? Why or why not? The respondents are of varying ages, backgrounds, and political beliefs. Let's take a look at what average women are saying:

Cindy, 33: I would not vote for Hillary Clinton. The Whitewater Scandal, coupled with her decision to stay with her philandering husband, are [sic]the biggest strikes against her for me. She is not a positive female role model in my book.
Julie, 45:  I am not opposed to voting for Hillary.  I do not have a definite answer, as I vote for the best "man"/team and not knowing her running mate or who she would run against, I cannot give you an answer. Although I think it is high time for a woman president, I would not vote for a woman who I did not agree on political views just to get a woman in office.

Cathy, 48: Well, I am almost positive that I would not vote for Hillary. Quite honestly, I haven't been following her since she is a NY senator but her actions while Bill was in the White House still concern me.

Kitty, 56: I would never vote for Hillary Clinton because she can't be trusted, as evidenced by the Travel Office case and the missing files case, just to name two examples. I think untrustworthy pretty much says it all. Then, of course, she is female.  With the exception of another Lady Thatcher, there is no way I'd ever vote for a female president with Islamic terrorists constantly threatening us.
Sue, 47: I would vote for her because I think she will be the most intelligent person running in 2008.

Brenda, 48: It really doesn't matter what I think about Hillary. My feeling is that this country is not ready or willing to accept a female president...it will be a long time before it will happen. Maybe if there were a female vice president and something happened to the president.  I am not sure of my feelings on Hillary. Most presidential candidates and presidents alike leave a lot to be desired.

Gayle, 64: I would not vote for Hillary Rodham Clinton for anything. Not because I find her to be strident, shrill, humorless and utterly vengeful, but because I cannot ever remove from my mind the knowledge that this woman was a disciple of Saul Alinsky and, so far as I can see, has never changed her socialist views. She would be a disaster for this country in every way possible and would, in addition, foist upon us 4 or 8 more years [of] the despicable, cowardly, morally bankrupt Bill Clinton!  And this time, he wouldn't have to answer to Congress for his sleazy behavior - only to Hillary (although if he embarrassed President Hillary - the stakes might be a lot higher for him than in the past).

Ashley, 28: I personally like Hillary Clinton a lot. I think she gets a bad rap for being an uppity woman. She is incredibly intelligent, her positions are quite centrist (despite those who malign her as being too left wing) and she has gained a reputation for her ability to reach across the aisle and work in a bipartisan way. However, I don't think she'd make a good candidate because she is just too polarizing. [W]e need a person who will appeal to a broad cross section of people. Senator Clinton, unfortunately, has a reputation that is so firmly ingrained in the minds of the American public that it doesn't matter what she believes, says or does because people aren't willing to see her in a different light. The short answer is that I would love to see her as president, but wouldn't vote for her unless I thought she had a good chance to win (or that no Democrat had any chance at all).

Bonney*, mid-40s: I would not vote for Hillary just because she is a woman; I would need to know what her agenda is and support it.
The above examples are a mixed bag. While several respondents either like Hillary or would not be opposed to voting for her, only one, Sue, answered with a definitive "yes." Those who are opposed to voting for her give specific reasons why. A few toyed with the idea of a woman as president: Brenda doesn't feel the country is ready, and both Julie and Bonney said they would not vote for a woman "just because." Kitty also brought up voting for a woman in the context of the times: she would not, unless she knew the woman would be as tough as Britain's former prime minister Margaret Thatcher. 

That brings up an important issue: is our country ready for a woman in the Oval Office? The polls have differing results: a Gallup poll in October of this year showed 61% saying yes,  a February CBS poll had 55% of respondents saying yes, and in a September 2005 poll sponsored by The White House Project, 79% said America is ready for a woman. (According to its web site, www.thewhitehouseproject.org, The White House Project is a "national non-partisan organization created to advance women's leadership across sectors, including the U.S. presidency.")

Entertainment executives certainly thought America was ready for a woman president, as ABC television gave us Commander in Chief starring Geena Davis as president last fall. Unfortunately, the show didn't last the season. Opinions vary on whether viewers didn't like the subject, or whether the show was simply lacking in quality.

Political analyst and columnist Mona Charen posed the question thusly: "Can a woman be elected president? It depends entirely on how womanly she is." Hillary's no-frill pantsuits, no-nonsense speaking style and willingness to meet controversy head-on certainly put her in this category. Stereotypically, this should turn men off and create fans among women, who have a history of what some would say is oppression in a patriarchic society.

Yet her style is what many, including women, hold against her. Respondent Gayle (above) called Hillary "strident, shrill, humorless and utterly vengeful." Blogger Carol Platt Liebau says her speeches are "shrill, eardrum-breaking."  Author Myrna Blyth is blunt :
"The real trouble is that Hillary is a star politician without a star personality. She is missing the warmth, the humor, the innate likeability."
While Hillary is certainly not the only woman whose name comes up in discussions for the 2008 presidential run (Condoleezza Rice, for example), she is perhaps the most likely to throw her hat into the ring. Yet her name recognition, ability to raise huge sums of campaign money, and strong Washington D.C. connections can only get her so far. As a woman, she has to be tough - but not so tough that she turns people off. She also has to be able to appeal to liberals and conservatives alike, which is a difficult task in today's political climate. Some liberals say she doesn't go far enough to the left, while many conservatives don't trust her centrist appeals on the war and other issues.

Everyone will be watching to see how she comports herself between now and the 2008 presidential campaign. Anyone who has spent time with groups of women can tell you that they're a lot more unforgiving than men, which means that her toughest critics may indeed be those whose votes might mean the most. 

*Name changed by request of respondent.
Pamela Meister writes about politics and world events at her blog, BlogmeisterUSA.

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