Hillary Clinton was counting on voters — particularly American women — to salivate at the prospect of shattering the highest glass ceiling by electing a woman president. She’ll need a backup plan. It turns out women aren’t nearly as gender-obsessed as Hillary thinks they are, or wants them to be.
Clinton’s strategy does make some sense. After all, President Obama was buoyed by the widespread sense that his election wasn’t just his personal triumph, but all of ours, in burying the vestiges of America’s racist past. Given that women were also once treated as second-class citizens, why shouldn’t Hillary expect a similar wave of excitement and sense of history?
Perhaps the string of female secretaries of state and Supreme Court justices, as well as presidential candidates like Carly Fiorina and Clinton herself, has made the idea of a female president seem less than revolutionary. The feminist movement — which appears unwilling to acknowledge women’s gains — may also have overplayed its victim status. Young men with few job prospects and a lifetime of being bested by female schoolmates may not be overjoyed to applaud yet another sign of women’s ascendance.
The person of Hillary Clinton herself undoubtedly helps dampen enthusiasm about the prospect of a female president, and not just among Republicans who disagree with her political philosophy. The media is currently pondering how the re-emergence of her husband’s brutal treatment of ex-lovers impacts voters’ opinion of Hillary.
But Mrs. Clinton’s role as the long-suffering first lady to a roguish leading man is just one of her problems; her reputation as a scandal-drenched, corporate-backed and largely failed public servant has always made her an awkward feminist heroine.
Regardless of the explanation, the simple fact is most voters aren’t particularly anxious to see a woman — let alone Hillary Clinton — in the Oval Office.
Pew Research Center’s new report explored attitudes about women in leadership, and found that most Americans see women as just as capable political leaders as men. Women scored about equally on some key leadership traits such as intelligence and capacity for innovation, and received higher marks on attributes such as honesty, ability to compromise, compassion and organization.
Pew found big differences between how Democrats and Republicans viewed the sexes as potential political leaders. But before liberals start lamenting sexist conservatives’ “war on women,” Republicans didn’t see women as less capable, rather Republicans “are more inclined to say there isn’t any difference between men and women,” while “Democrats are significantly more likely than Republicans to say that women do a better job than men.” In other words, Republicans were more likely to truly see women and men as equals, while Democrats see one sex — men — as inferior.
But just because Americans see women as just as qualified and capable political leaders doesn’t mean they’re eagerly awaiting a female president. Just four in 10 (38 percent) of all adults “say they hope the US will elect a female president in their lifetime,” while a majority (57 percent) “say it doesn’t matter to them.”
Women are more likely to want to see a female president, but even that doesn’t translate into big support for Hillary. Take New Hampshire, where the latest poll shows just 38 percent of Democratic women voters plan to vote for Hillary compared to 52 who favor Sen. Bernie Sanders. Clinton is losing women’s support not just in Iowa and New Hampshire: A nationwide poll just released by Monmouth University found that Clinton’s edge among women has fallen from plus-45 percentage points in December to just 19 now.
Feminists may take the lack of excitement as more evidence that the deck is stacked against women. But this phenomenon can also be seen as progress: Women have come so far that it’s no longer big news for women to advance to a higher level of power. People really are judging others based on the content of their character and the skills they bring to the position rather than as a representative of any particular demographic group.
This makes it more likely that when we get a woman president (and three out of four surveyed by Pew expect to see it during their lifetime) she’ll have reached that position based on her qualifications, not out of a sense of obligation among voters. Now that’s something to be excited about.
Carrie Lukas is the managing director of the Independent Women’s Forum and vice president for policy of the Independent Women’s Voice.
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