How Much Latent Sexism Is Out There?

Roundup
tags: Hillary Clinton, election 2016, sexism



Ellen Fitzpatrick is Professor of History at the University of New Hampshire. Her latest book is The Highest Glass Ceiling: Women’s Quest for the American Presidency.

... In the volatile dynamics of 2016, gender appears woven, for better or worse, into the warp and woof of the race. The Clinton campaign and the Democratic Party have promoted the prospect of electing the first woman President. Their Republican opponent, on the other hand, has excoriated Clinton for “playing the woman card”—she has “nothing else” to offer beyond her sex, Donald Trump has asserted. This divide is a familiar one whenever women candidates have been in the presidential arena. Although Senator Margaret Chase Smith of Maine asked for votes not because of her gender when she ran in 1964, she embraced the role of path-breaker. She also endured unrelenting commentary about her sex, including oft-repeated claims that, at 66, she was too old—and menopausal—to serve as President. Donald Trump’s propensity to boast of his hyper-masculinity and to cast his male primary opponents as “weak,” likewise inevitably invokes the gender difference of the candidates.

Gender remains terra incognita in a final key respect: how the “gender gap,” apparent since the 1980s, will play out with a woman at the top of a major party’s ticket. For the past 36 years, women have voted more often for Democratic than Republican presidential candidates by an average of 8 percentage points. The widest divide came in 2000, when women chose Al Gore over George W. Bush by a margin of 12 percent. Women favored Obama over his Republican opponents in both 2008 and 2012, by 7 percent and 10 percent respectively. Current polling shows a wide gender gap of as much as 16 percent for Clinton in 2016. Race, however, is an important variable in assessing how men respond to the Democratic nominee. Clinton is a polarizing figure for white men, but African-American and Hispanic men favor her over Donald Trump by huge margins, as do African-American and Hispanic women.

Given these trends, there is no room for a candidate to alienate women. They are a decisive force in the electorate, not only because they have favored the Democratic candidate in the last nine elections, but also because they turn out to vote faithfully. There is ample opportunity for Clinton to exploit her greater favorability among older women voters especially. While long held assumptions that women would uniformly rally around any woman who ran for President have never been sustained historically, women have nonetheless played an essential part in mobilizing support for female political candidates. ...




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