Hillary Clinton's top advisors gleefully predict that women will storm the voting booth barricades to punch the ticket for her. The heavy inference is that female voters will power her to the White House. This is wrong on many counts, and fortunately Hillary is too politically savvy and experienced to make that wishful thinking claim this early in the presidential game. In the near century that women have voted, the only arguable election that women tipped the scale for a presidential candidate was Bill Clinton's re-election win in 1996. Clinton decisively won the female vote.
However, Clinton was also the incumbent president. He had the advantage of non-stop media exposure, the presidential bully pulpit, a bulging campaign chest, solid labor backing, and a lackluster Republican challenger, Bob Dole. And he was a Southerner. That enabled him to snatch the crucial handful of Southern states from the Republican column that spell the difference between the White House and defeat for any candidate.
The biggest thing, though, that made women flock to him was that he was the Democratic candidate. Women tend to vote overwhelmingly for Democrats no matter the gender of the candidate. But a lot of women also vote Republican. That's another way of saying that party affiliation trumps gender. Geraldine Ferraro found that out in 1984. She was the Democrat's vice presidential nominee. Democrats banked heavily that having her on the ticket would swing loads more women voters to the Democrats. It didn't. Republican Ronald Reagan trounced the Walter Mondale-Ferraro ticket and Republican women (and probably including a considerable number of centrist and conservative women Democrats) voted for Reagan. In all Republican presidential victories in the 1980s and the Bush Jr. election victories in 2000 and 2004, Republican women voters dutifully voted for their party ticket.
They will vote even more fervently against Hillary in 2008. Jerry Falwell and company will see to that. He's loudly saber rattled her and vowed to mount a holy crusade against her. A Hillary headed Democratic ticket will energize, inflame and polarize conservative Christian women voters. That will make it virtually impossible for the Democrats to pry the crucial one, let alone, two states away from the Southern Republican bloc. With Hillary as the Democratic presidential standard bearer, the Democrats could be 170 electoral votes in the hole before the first vote is cast. That's the number of votes that the Democrats can kiss good-bye in the South and several Border States.
The loss of that big a swath of electoral votes going in the presidential election door can be dumped squarely on the deep and resonant hate Bill residue that still taints her. The women's vote even if it was near solid for her would not offset that devastating political loss.
Even women Democrats aren't a lock to vote in big numbers for Hillary if she gets the nomination. In countless surveys, polls, and anecdotal conversations, women say they are less likely to stay up on political issues than men, and are more likely to vote for a candidate based on personal likes or dislikes than men. When asked what they like about Hillary, many women reflexively say they like her toughness. But that's generally considered a rough and tumble male quality. How many times has that tagline been used to describe Bush when he makes his most blustery pronouncements about Iraq and the war on terrorism?
Many women vehemently say that they want to see more women get in office, and that they are more likely to vote for a woman candidate than for a man. Yet in the 2006 American National Election Study Pilot Test, women came off sounding as if they would be much harsher in judging a woman candidate's political ability than a man's. In other words, they want more women officeholders, but they also hold them to a higher standard than men. That's not surprising. Many women still regard politics as a man's game. And presidential politics traditionally is the biggest male game of all. A female in the White House radically shatters the frozen in time mindset that the first lady isn't the president but the emotional helpmate to the president.
Times are changing though. In 2005, there were 6 female presidents and four female prime ministers. If a 2006 CBS poll can be believed she won't have to buck a public backlash over a woman for president. More than 90 percent of Americans now claim they'll vote for a woman for president.
Hillary's most passionate backers, though, are betting that the woman's vote will smooth the path to the White House for her. Women voters can, and maybe will, be a force in the 2008 election. But if history is any guide, female voters won't be enough to put her over the top. Too many of them will vote against her because she's a Democrat, and because, well, she's Hillary.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is a political analyst and social issues commentator, and the author of The Emerging Black GOP Majority (Middle Passage Press, September 2006), a hard-hitting look at Bush and The GOP's court of black voters. earlofarihutchinson.blogspot.com