Almost a hundred years ago, Sigmund Freud famously asked, “What do women want?” In political terms, the answer is unmistakable: What women want is a woman president. And their voting preferences are showing how strongly they feel.
According to the Gallup Poll of November 9-12, both Democratic and Republican women disproportionately support their party’s potential female candidates. While it has not been unusual to see polls showing a bias by female voters in favor of women who run on the Democratic Party line, most of these surveys have failed to distinguish whether it is party or gender that is attracting female voters. And, until recently, Republican women have not shown a preference for a female candidate.
But the Gallup Poll tested Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) in a Democratic primary field and Condoleezza Rice in a Republican match-up. Among both sexes, Hillary ran first in her party with 31 percent of the vote, followed by newly hyped Sen. Barack Obama (Ill.) at 19 percent, John Edwards, likely benefiting from his wife’s best-selling book, at 10 percent, Al Gore at 9 percent and Sen. John Kerry (Mass.), probably suffering from his foot-in-mouth disease, back at 7 percent.
On the Republican side, Rudy Giuliani led with 28 percent, followed by Sen. John McCain (Ariz.) at 26 percent, Rice at 13 percent, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (Ga.) at 7 percent, outgoing Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney at 5 percent and soon-to-be-former Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (Tenn.) at 4 percent.
But since both fields are cluttered with possible non-candidates, the real relevance of this survey is to demonstrate the impact of a female candidate on voters of both parties.
Hillary was favored by 38 percent of the women in the Gallup Poll’s Democratic Primary match-up but got only 23 percent of the men. On the Republican side, Rice won 18 percent of the women and only 8 percent of the men.
Such a dramatic gender gap, on each side of the partisan divide, illustrates the power of a woman candidate, from either party, running for president.
Remember that women are 52 percent of our population, 54 percent of the registered vote, and usually between 55 percent and 56 percent of actual turnout.
Indeed, so powerful is the female vote that it is credited with swinging two of our last three presidential elections. In 1996, it was the soccer moms who turned away from the abstract “family values” of the Republicans to embrace the more pragmatic and specific child- and education-focused programs of the Clinton administration. In 2004, these same moms, now designated “security moms,” turned away from the bite-sized measures of the Democrats and voted for the tough anti-terrorist policies of George Bush.
Nineteen million single women voted in 2000 and 27 million came out in 2004. If a woman runs for president, it stands to reason that such turnout will rise still further. If single women vote in proportion to their share of the national population, they could account for 32 million votes in 2008. Since women who are either divorced, widowed, or never married voted Democratic by a two-to-one margin in 2004 and 2006, it is likely that this influx of single women will be crucial to Hillary’s candidacy (or to Rice’s if she decides to run).
In our male-dominated political world, where pundits speak mainly to one another and confirm each other’s wisdom, we do not fully appreciate the power of a woman candidate. Single moms, disproportionately in poverty, burdened by the need for good daycare and schools, often rotting in minimum-wage jobs, are natural fodder for a woman Democrat who can identify with their plight and focus on their needs. The cultural outpouring that would likely greet the first woman to be nominated by a party to run for president would probably drive these women out in droves to vote and participate in the political process.
It could be that women get what they want in 2008.