For young women, political revolution is currently trumping the idea of a Madame President.
In New Hampshire, women under the age of 45 overwhelmingly backed Bernie Sanders over Hillary Clinton, exit polls showed. It’s a problem for the former secretary of state as she tries to build the coalition of voters needed to win the Democratic nomination, and she knows it, saying of young voters as she conceded New Hampshire to Sanders that, “even if they are not supporting me now, I support them.”
The numbers are staggering, and not just because Clinton — widely expected to be the first woman to win the presidential nomination of a major political party — lost New Hampshire women to a 74-year-old grandfather. Sanders won the votes of 7 out of every 10 women under the age of 45, and nearly 80 percent of women under the age of 30.
“I think for young women, they clearly identify as feminists, they say they’re feminists, but I think the notion of having a woman president … it doesn’t drive them in the same way, as women who are in the traditional second wave of feminism,” said Debbie Walsh, director for the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University.
Indeed, young women in New Hampshire said they were more inspired by the Vermont senator’s ambitious policy proposals, including a government-run health care system for all and free public college tuition. Clinton’s more pragmatic ideas and complicated public history are a tough sell.
“We always have another chance to have another woman president, but do we have another chance to have someone as genuine as Bernie Sanders is?” asked Nicole McGillicuddy, 26, a server at a Concord restaurant, who believes there will a female president in her lifetime.
Clinton and Sanders will meet for the next debate of the Democratic race on Thursday in Milwaukee, when Clinton’s outreach to younger women is sure to continue.
Compared with her 2008 bid, which focused more on experience and her readiness for the White House, Clinton has embraced her gender this time, touting her potential to be the first female president and stressing economic issues popular with women, including equal pay and family leave.
She has promoted endorsements from women’s organizations, campaigned with female elected officials and sought to impress younger women with surrogates like pop star Katy Perry and actress Lena Dunham.
But the message has not resonated, much to the frustration of the Clinton campaign. Angst over Sanders’ appeal erupted recently, when former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright said there was “a special place in hell” for women who don’t help women and renowned feminist Gloria Steinem said that Sanders’ female supporters were doing it to meet boys.
Those comments were roundly criticized, prompting an apology from Steinem.
“I can’t see voting for someone just because she’s a woman. That’s a bad message. It does not resonate. It’s lame,” said Barbara Considine, 58, of western Massachusetts. “It backfires. In fact, it’s suggesting we’re not supposed to think about what the issues are or anything else.”
Clinton is expected to fare better in the upcoming early contests than she did in Iowa, where she barely eked out a win in the caucuses, and lost in New Hampshire. A recent national poll from Quinnipiac University showed Clinton winning women voters 48-38 against Sanders.
Stephanie Schriock, the president of Emily’s List, which supports Democratic women who back abortion rights as they run for Congress and governors, and who has been campaigning for Clinton in the early states, argued that the idea Clinton was losing women was “overblown.”
“We look at the national numbers and she’s doing well, including on millennial women. We’ve seen really good energy across the county from women of all ages,” Schriock said.
Clinton has struggled to clearly define her message against Sanders’ insurgent effort, however — and his intense focus on breaking up big financial institutions and expanding social programs has captured liberal voters, especially young people. There are some similarities to 2008, when polling showed that President Barack Obama did better than Clinton with younger women.
But the generational divide among young women over Clinton’s candidacy appears more entrenched than it was at this point in 2008. That year, the youngest female primary voters in New Hampshire — those under age 30 — were slightly more likely to support Obama than Clinton, 45 percent to 37 percent, while this year 79 percent of them voted for Sanders.
Women between 30 and 44 in 2008 were slightly more likely to support Clinton than Obama, while this year most of them supported Sanders.
“In 2008, I liked her a lot more back then. I think she was more of a genuine individual. Now she’s had eight years to become enmeshed in the machine,” said Lucy Fitzpatrick, 60, of Epping, New Hampshire, who is backing Sanders, as are her 20-year-old twin daughters. “I’d love to see a woman in the office one day, but I can’t, in good conscience, vote for her.”
Lucey reported from Des Moines, Iowa. News Survey Specialist Emily Swanson contributed to this report from Washington.
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