A new poll of three Democratic-leaning battleground states suggests Hillary Clinton’s gender will not have a major impact on the voters in the 2016 presidential election, but it might not tell the whole story.
Quinnipiac asked registered voters in Colorado, Iowa, and Virginia if the fact that if Clinton were to run she would be the first female president makes them more likely, less likely, or have no impact on voting for Clinton. At about the same rate in each state – 74%, 77%, and 76%, respectively – respondents said it would not impact their vote.
When Clinton ran for president in 2008, pollster Mark Penn and other advisers saw similar numbers and advised Clinton to downplay her gender and promote strength and experience instead.
Clinton largely avoided the issue, right up to end of the campaign. When Clinton conceded her candidacy, she gave a famous speech about the “glass ceiling” she almost broke, but even that speech was controversial in her inner circle and almost didn’t happen.
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But if Clinton runs for president again, she’s not likely to repeat the strategy. While her gender may not be important for most voters, it would likely prove helpful among those voters for whom it does matter.
A Gallup poll from March of last year found that respondents picked the fact that Clinton would be the first woman president to be the most positive thing about her. Only 18% chose the option, but it easily beat out other options, like her foreign policy experience.
The chance to make history also excites some Democratic base voters, women, and young people. Not surprisingly, in the Quinnipiac survey, women were more likely to say that Clinton’s gender is a bonus than men.
Meanwhile, the downsides seem minimal. While Republicans were overwhelmingly likely to say that being the first female president would make them less likely to vote for Clinton – 24% of GOPers in Iowa said less likely versus 2% who said more likely – they probably weren’t going to vote Democratic anyway.
And Clinton has a strong head start among college-educated white women, the fastest growing group of white voters. That’s could be a huge advantage, according to the National Journal’s Ron Brownstein.
So while most voters might not care about Clinton’s gender, the right segments of voters might.