POLITICS
09/14/2015 05:33 pm ET Updated Sep 14, 2015

Support For Clinton Drops Among Female Voters

But it's still too early for polls to predict who might win in 2016.

Hillary Clinton's once-overwhelming support among women has dropped significantly since the summer, a new survey finds.

In a Washington Post/ABC poll released Monday, 42 percent of Democratic-leaning female voters said they support the candidate. It's still a double-digit lead over her rivals, but a 29-percent drop since July. Twenty-four percent of Democratic-leaning women now say they support Vice President Joe Biden, with another 22 percent backing Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders. Biden has still not formally declared a run for the White House.

While there was little difference in opinion between younger and older women, there was a substantial racial divide. Clinton's declining female support comes mostly among white women, with a majority of non-white female Democrats remaining in her camp.

Women of color tend to “believe the attacks on [Clinton] are due to Republicans and the media," Democratic pollster Celinda Lake told the Washington Post earlier this month. "White women are more concerned by the substance of the attacks and more influenced by the drumbeat in the media.”

Even as the candidates are revving up their campaigns this fall, it remains too early to rely on polling to predict who'll eventually win next year, or by what margin. Most people still aren't paying attention to polls, and closely contested primary elections in recent years haven't generally started to shake out until around December.

It's also not clear from recent surveys whether Clinton's decline among women is unique, or simply part of the overall slide she's faced after months of questions over her handling of State Department emails, an increasing challenge from Sanders and the looming possibility of a Biden entrance into the race.

Part of the reason the drop in female support in the latest Washington Post/ABC poll is so substantial is that Clinton fared unusually well among women in the outlets' July survey, which found her at 71 percent among female voters and 52 percent among male ones. 

In the Washington Post/ABC May and September polls, Clinton had lower female support but faced no signs of a gender gap. Her numbers, in fact, declined about equally among men and women between May and September

Other polls offer equally mixed evidence. CNN's latest survey found Clinton's support dropping 26 points among female voters, but just 13 points among male voters, since July, although a wide majority of the women still said they'd be enthusiastic about or satisfied with Clinton as their nominee. Quinnipiac, in contrast, found Clinton's female support dropping by 15 points among male voters and a more modest 6 points among female ones between July and the end of August

Still, Clinton's campaign is working to shore up her support among female voters, from launching a "Women for Hillary" initiative to booking her on "Ellen." Priorities USA Action, a Super PAC that supports her candidacy, also announced last month that it was partnering with Emily's List to target female voters in battleground states. 

"None of these women will back Clinton just because they feel like they have to because she is a woman," Kelly Dittmar, a scholar at the Center for Women and Politics at Rutgers University, told NBC News in August. "Many didn't do so in 2008, and they won't in 2016 if they identify another candidate who they view as better or more viable."

The Post/ABC poll surveyed 1,003 adults between Sept. 7 and Sept. 10, using live interviewers to reach both landlines and cell phones.

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