Hillary and the homemaker factor


So Hillary’s “in” for now. But can she win and, most importantly, can she win votes from women? Her announcement last week drew the expected scads of media coverage, but there’s been very little media discussion of perhaps the most important question swirling around her campaign: Can the first female candidate with a serious shot at winning the White House garner the votes of female voters?

The answer is nothing less than pivotal. According to the Web site vote.com, ” … women are 52 percent of our population, 54 percent of the registered vote and usually between 55 percent and 56 percent of actual turnout.”

Of course, feminists, liberals and progressive Democratic women will sign on with her candidacy. Any politician with her credentials could never expect, much less try, to win support for staunch Republicans or conservatives. But can she even draw middle-of-the-road, fulltime homemakers (an important piece of the electoral puzzle) and swing or independent women into the “Hillary” camp?

Some of the most virulent opposition to Senator Clinton I’ve heard personally comes from voters in this group. I’ve heard some of them say they detest her because she stayed with a philandering husband. Others say they see her as opportunistic, or don’t trust her after Whitewater and an old allegation of insider trading. But there’s a bigger issue many of these women don’t want to address: Does she threaten their raison d’etre?

She’s a self-supporting career woman who lives a very separate life from that of her spouse (some would say, too separate) and who doesn’t depend on her husband for financial support or personal identity.

The timing of Senator Clinton’s run, however, could translate into an unanticipated lucky break with women voters. Recent demographic changes have boosted the percentage of single American women to historic proportions and that is reflected in their representation within the electorate as well. In 2000, 19 million single women voted. That rose to 27 million in 2004. And if current trends continue, 32 million single women could turn out in 2008. This group, financially less well-off than married women, are nonetheless less threatened by Senator Clinton’s independence. With lower incomes, they are less likely to be able to afford health care and therefore appreciate her advocacy for increased health care accessibility. This group, whether divorced, widowed or never married, also voted Democratic by a two-to-one margin in 2004 and again in 2006, even though President Bush won the married white women’s vote in 2004 (and in 2000.)

I’m still not persuaded the American public as a whole is ready for a female president. Sure, political correctness persuades them to tell pollsters they are. But what they tell pollsters and what they do once cloaked inside the privacy of the voting booth can be two very different things. Most polls taken the last few years show between 60 and 80 percent of Americans claim to believe the country is “ready” for a woman president. But if between 20 and 40 percent of voters are not ready for any woman to be president, what does that say about us as a nation?

Are there some Americans who’d give a woman candidate preference over a man? An ABC-Washington Post poll taken last month says yes. Twenty-three percent of women voters told those pollsters they are more likely to vote for another woman. Only nine percent of men said they’d give a female candidate extra points.

I give Senator Clinton major kudos for softening her image (which she needs to do in the worst way to woo female skeptics) in her series of online chats this week. She was seated on a comfy sofa, answered a good mix of questions ranging from family matters to world affairs. She appeared composed and confident. What we don’t know is how many female detractors were watching.

Perhaps she can pull off nationwide what she accomplished in New York state this past fall. She won 73 percent of the women’s vote (and 61 percent of male

voters.) In that race, of course, she had no real opposition and spent as wantonly on her campaign as President Bush is spending American taxpayers’ dollars. However, if things keep getting worse in Iraq and Senator John McCain (who supports increasing troop levels there) is her opposition, who knows; perhaps she could pull off a repeat.

(Bonnie Erbe is a TV host and columnist. E-mail bonnieerbe(at)CompuServe.com.)


  1. Elgee

    I add my “No vote” to Hillary’s column. She’s an “ice” queen! I want someone like House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (but I DON’T WANT TO LOOOSE HER IN THAT POSITION!) All my life I’ve wanted to see a THINKING, progressive woman in the White House – and it would be my great enjoyment to view Bush the younger turn over “his” White House to one! Just NOT Clinton, please!

  2. Steve-O

    If the Dems insist on running Hillary the GOP will win regardless of who thier guy is.

    The first women president isn’t going to be a power hungry, shrill, commie.

  3. SEAL

    From the standpoint of breaking the barrier and electing a woman to the presidency, there will never be a more oppertune time. The nation is going to elect a democrat in 2008 unless they commit suicide. Hillary isn’t that great, certainly not ideal, but she isn’t that bad either. At least not bad enough to make people choose the likes of John McCain if the repubs are dumb enough to run him. I could beat that guy. If they run someone like Hagel she might miss a few votes but not enough to lose.

    The nation is going democrat in 2008 if the party doesn’t shoot themselves in the head in the next two years. From the looks of things right now, Obama would win in a landslide. People outside of the hardcore south love him and the upside of that is he would break the other barrier of race. But the corporate gods determine who it is, and Hillary is their man. So we might as well get used to the idea.

  4. Miranda Norton

    Well I would have to say that i would love to see a woman president. I would just like to see some fresh air in the white house for once! You never know whose the best for the job, it seems, until they actually get there. I wouldn’t mind Obama either, but I would choose Hillary above all else.