POLITICS
12/17/2012 12:36 pm ET Updated Dec 18, 2012

Susan Rice Poll: Americans Divided Over Importance Of Woman In Top Cabinet Job

The prospects of a woman holding any of the top three Cabinet positions in President Barack Obama's second term look increasingly slim after reports this weekend that the president plans to nominate Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) as secretary of state, instead of United Nations Ambassador Susan Rice. Earlier reports said that former Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.) is the likely nominee for secretary of defense, leaving secretary of the Treasury as the last top slot available for a woman.

A new survey finds that Americans are about evenly divided, however, over the importance of a woman holding one of those three Cabinet jobs now.

The latest HuffPost/YouGov survey found that 44 percent of adults said it was either very or somewhat important for Obama to nominate a woman to be either secretary of state, secretary of defense or secretary of the Treasury, while 42 percent said it was either not too important or not at all important. Among women, 47 percent said it was very or somewhat important and only 36 percent said it was not too important or not at all important.

The chance for another woman to be nominated as secretary of state -- following in the footsteps of Madeleine Albright, Condoleezza Rice and Hilary Clinton -- looked solid until Ambassador Rice withdrew her name from consideration this past Thursday. Rice had drawn criticism from Republican senators for her remarks in the aftermath of the Benghazi, Libya, attack.

Respondents were split over that criticism: 37 percent said it was unfair, 32 percent said it was fair and 31 percent said they weren't sure. Not surprisingly, there was a deep partisan divide on the issue, with 59 percent of Democrats finding the criticism unfair and 64 percent of Republicans considering it fair. Independents were slightly more likely to say the criticism was fair (34 percent) than unfair (29 percent).

The new survey found that Americans have paid relatively close attention to the debate over whether Rice should become secretary of state: 41 percent said they had heard a lot about the story, 31 percent that they had heard a little and 16 percent said they had heard nothing. Another 12 percent said they weren't sure.

Overall, 35 percent of respondents had a favorable opinion of Rice, while 29 percent said they had an unfavorable opinion and 26 percent said they were not sure. Sen. Kerry, Rice's possible replacement as nominee, received a higher rating: 44 percent had a favorable opinion of him, 33 percent an unfavorable opinion and 23 percent said they were unsure. Kerry's higher favorable and unfavorable ratings are largely due to his greater name recognition.

Americans were similarly divided along partisan lines in their opinions of Rice and Kerry, with Democrats having an overwhelmingly favorable and Republicans an overwhelmingly unfavorable opinion of both, while independents were more closely divided.

The HuffPost/YouGov poll was conducted Dec. 13-14 among 1,000 U.S. adults. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points, though that inherent variation does not take into account other potential sources of error, including statistical bias in the sample. The poll used a sample selected from YouGov's opt-in online panel to match the demographics and other characteristics of the adult U.S. population. Factors considered include age, race, gender, education, employment, income, marital status, number of children, voter registration, time and location of Internet access, interest in politics, religion and church.

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