It isn’t too difficult to observe elections in the United States and find evidence of women candidates being viewed from a gendered, often negative, perspective. The Hillary Clinton nutcracker. Sarah Palin as Caribou Barbie. The endless attention to the hair, clothing, and physical appearance of women candidates. The examples span the levels of government and the range of offices women seek. Hillary Clinton is ordered to stop “shouting” when she speaks to supporters after an exciting night of five primary victories. Donald Trump asks if voters could support someone with Carly Fiorina’s face. Even a candidate for the Ohio state legislature, Jennifer Herold, is scolded by her opponent that she shouldn’t be running for office as the mother of very young children. Observing the candidacies of women in the United States is to encounter frequent and far-ranging public conversations about whether women’s looks, personalities, experiences, abilities, and family status help or hinder their chances of election.
What is the gender gap?
Talking about gender is commonly misinterpreted as simply talking about women. As a result, reports about the gender gap in politics and polling often focus only on how women vote. The gender gap, however, is defined as the difference between the proportions of women and men who support a given candidate, generally the leading or winning candidate. It is the gap between the genders, not within a gender. For those who like equations, here it is:
[% Women for Leading or Winning Candidate] – [% Men for Leading or Winning Candidate] = Gender Gap
Hillary Clinton is an emotional and political lightening rod. Of this there is absolutely no doubt. If you do a Google search for why people dislike Hillary Clinton, you get over a million entries with titles like…”Our Love/Hate Relationship with Hillary Clinton,” “The Jarring Reasons People Don’t Want to Vote for Hillary Clinton,” and “Why do Young People Have Such Visceral Dislike for Hillary?” Her own advocates are willing to stipulate that liking her is not even necessary to vote for her.
On 12 April 2015, Hillary Clinton announced her presidential candidacy via a You Tube video. That same day, EMILY’s List, a Political Action Committee (PAC) that raises funds on behalf of pro-choice Democratic women candidates, endorsed Clinton and identified her as a “lifelong champion for women and families and the most qualified candidate to be president.” Since that endorsement nearly a year ago, EMILY’s List has worked tirelessly in support of Clinton and has bundled more than $200,000 in contributions from donors in the first two months of her campaign alone. And, more recently, EMILY’s List pledged to work with Priorities USA, the super PAC supporting Hillary Clinton, to mobilize young female voters on Clinton’s behalf.
If Hillary Clinton activated her “firewall” in the past week of presidential primaries, black women are a key component of it. Black voters voted overwhelmingly for Clinton in Democratic primaries across the nine states where race data is available, and the proportion of black women casting ballots for Clinton was even greater than the proportion of black men, based on exit polls reporting race by gender data. Gender gaps –the difference between women’s and men’s support for the winning candidates – range from 2 to 9 points among black voters in primaries in Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina, Texas, and Virginia. Most significantly, Clinton has won more than 85% of black women’s votes in each of these states.
In her quest to win the Democratic nomination for president, Hillary Clinton has made overt appeals to women voters, whether by emphasizing issues of particular importance to women, sharing her own experiences (and challenges) as a woman, or reaching female audiences through women-focused media or women surrogates. Some have criticized these tactics as “playing the gender card,” but Clinton is not alone in seeking support from women voters. Why? Because women voters outnumber and outvote their male counterparts. They are also more reliably Democratic voters than men and have been so since 1980.
Dr. Anna Sampaio participated in Presidential Gender Watch 2016’s press call, “Women Voters: It’s Complicated,” where she discussed the role, influence, and engagement of Latina voters in 2016. This post provides many of the highlights and data she shared on that call.
Much like they did in 2008 and 2012, Latinas are poised to play a significant role in this 2016 election both in terms of turnout (through both increased rates of naturalization and registration) and concentration of support for a candidate (in this case, Hillary Clinton). Latina support for Obama in 2012 was decisive to his re-election and their support is likely to be similarly significant in 2016, particularly in states where they have a critical mass and there is a competitive race. In the primaries, these states include Nevada, Texas, Colorado, Florida, Illinois, Arizona, Massachusetts, and possibly California (depending how late in the primary season the race goes).