Almost 40 percent of Senator Hillary Clinton's supporters either favor Senator John McCain or are undecided, according to the latest Associated Press-Yahoo News poll. Some media accounts have spun this as a glass-is-half-full scenario for Senator Barack Obama because more than half of Clinton's supporters intend to vote for him. Today's joint Clinton/Obama rally in Unity, New Hampshire is an effort to increase that number. But whatever the data mean for Obama, the cup is hardly running over for the feminist movement.
Undoubtedly, women account for a considerable chunk of that 40 percent. And, equally likely, most of these women must be, like Senator Clinton herself, committed advocates of a woman's right to choose whether to have an abortion - one of the defining causes of the feminist movement in the past four decades. How can these same women be unsure of their vote in November or, worse yet, committed to John McCain, perhaps the most anti-choice candidate in history?
The answers are bleak for feminists. These women are either ignorant or angry.
So, let's start with the women who have not yet bothered to consider what a vote for McCain would mean for women's rights. A recent poll commissioned by Planned Parenthood found that half of women supporting Senator McCain in battleground states did not know his position on abortion. In fact, George Will estimated that three-quarters of the country do not know McCain is pro-life. The lack of knowledge is not because the facts are up for debate. Senator McCain has stated publicly and unequivocally his views on abortion: he told a group of supporters in South Carolina this year that "I do not support Roe versus Wade. It should be overturned." And he has a long record of opposing abortion rights. He voted against allocating federal Medicaid funds for abortion even when the woman was the victim of rape or incest. He supported a complete ban on women in the military getting abortions at overseas military hospitals even when those women use their own money.
Senator McCain's lack of concern for the health of women goes further than his stance on abortion. He opposes requirements on health care plans to provide contraceptive coverage. He endorses an abstinence-only approach to sex education.
And lest there be any doubt how these views would translate to his judicial nominees, Senator McCain has made it crystal clear in a recent speech that he will support judges who share his views, including his anti-abortion stance. As with so many things, he intends to follow the path of President George W. Bush; he is on the record stating that he will select Justices in the mold of John Roberts and Samuel Alito, jurists who have already demonstrated an unwavering conservative voting record.
Senator Obama, in contrast, has pledged to make the preservation of "women's rights under Roe v. Wade a priority as President." He voted against Justices Roberts and Alito and has made clear that he wants "people on the bench who have enough empathy, enough feeling, for what ordinary people are going through."
This is not merely a theoretical disagreement between candidates. We are one vote away from having a majority of the Court hostile to Roe v. Wade, and the next President will replace at least one Justice who supports abortion rights and probably more. But some of Hillary Clinton's supporters have not even bothered to engage in the 10-second Google search that would give them McCain's positions on these issues.
But what about the women who do know the facts? Some of the women in that 40 percent must know McCain's views on these issues and are not fooled by his campaign's efforts to appear friendly to women by prominently featuring the female former CEOs of Hewlett-Packard and eBay. Informed female supporters of Hillary Clinton should be lining up to volunteer for Barack Obama. That a sizeable portion of them are unsure what to do next isn't just bad news for Senator Obama. It's bad news for the women's movement.
A woman's right to choose and reproductive freedom have been central pillars of the women's movement. If these women no longer feel strongly about those issues, on what basis are they now voting?
Is there another cause or issue greater than this one for these feminists? Certainly one can think of many pressing concerns. But Senator Obama is aligned with Senator Clinton on almost every major policy issue - and Senator McCain is not.
The most likely answer to the question of why some of these women are supporting McCain or are undecided is a frightening one for the feminist movement. It seems that many of these women would cast their vote for McCain to demonstrate their fury at Hillary Clinton's failure to secure the Democratic nomination.
Cynthia Ruccia, the co-founder of a group of Ohio Clinton supporters angered by what they saw as sexism during the primary campaign, says she plans to vote for Senator McCain even though she favors abortion rights. "Sexism is neither Democratic nor Republican, and it needs to stop," she said.
But a protest vote for Senator McCain as a way of decrying sexism simply doesn't make sense. One of the hallmarks of the women's movement --until now - has been its focus on action and results, not self-destructive symbols or the cult of personality.
Another has been to challenge the stereotype that women are too emotional to be trusted in positions of power where important decisions are made.
If these women cast their ballots in ignorance or a fit of rage, the glass wouldn't just be half empty for feminists. It would be shattered - and that's not the glass feminists have been trying to break through all these years.