DES MOINES, Iowa
There’s no “glass ceiling” keeping a woman from the presidential nomination anymore, but most Americans still think Hillary Clinton’s gender will influence the November election. They’re just divided on whether it’s more of a curse than a blessing.
According to a new poll from the Associated-Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research, most Americans see Clinton’s gender playing a role in the campaign, with 37 percent saying her gender will help her chances of being elected president, 29 percent arguing it will hurt her, and 33 percent thinking it won’t make a difference.
“I think it will help her in a way because we haven’t had a woman before,” said Nayef Jaber, 67, of San Rafael, Calif. “Israel had Golda Meir and Britain had the Iron Lady [Margaret Thatcher] ... Women can do the job as well as men and even better. Let’s give her a chance.”
Clinton, who officially clinched the Democratic nomination in July after a lengthy primary battle, has embraced the history-making nature of this campaign, compared to her 2008 presidential bid, which played down her gender. As she competes with Republican Donald Trump, Clinton has focused heavily on policies that appeal to female voters, like equal pay and paid maternity leave, and has stressed that she wants young women and girls to follow in her footsteps.
In contrast, critics say many of Trump’s attacks on Clinton look like gender bias. Trump has called Clinton weak and has recently started questioning her stamina. He has also complained about Clinton’s voice, questioned her appearance and said she is playing the “women’s card” to win.
Women have made strides in elected office in the United States, but still have not clinched the top job. The latest poll numbers show that many Americans still think women have fewer opportunities in politics compared with men.
Most Americans think women are tough enough to handle the challenges facing a president, but the poll shows that some remain unconvinced. Overall, 75 percent of Americans say they think men and women make equally good political leaders, while 17 percent think men make better leaders, and 7 percent say women do. Still, about a quarter of Americans, including nearly half of Republicans and more than half of Americans who have a favorable view of Donald Trump, think a female president would not be tough enough to handle a military crisis or a terrorist attack. Men and women are about equally likely to say a woman is tough enough to handle those scenarios facing a president.
More than half of Americans say they consider Clinton a positive role model for other women, though more than two-thirds say the fact that Clinton would be the first woman president doesn’t affect their vote.
“I don’t think it’s super important. I think it would be nice, a change of scenery, but I don’t think it’s 100 percent necessary,” said Celeste Wiley, 19, of Wesley Chapel, Fla., who said she will probably vote for Clinton. “It all depends on the person.”
After decades in the spotlight, serving as first lady, senator and secretary of state, public sentiment on Clinton is mixed and she has high negative ratings. Still, Americans are more likely to think Clinton is being held to a higher standard than other candidates than a lower one, 40 percent to 23 percent. More than two thirds of those who think she’s being held to a higher standard say that’s because she’s a woman, while significantly fewer of those who think she’s being held to a lower one think her gender is the explanation. In total, more than a third of Americans think Clinton is being held to a different standard, either higher or lower, specifically because of her gender.
“I do think it hurts her. I think she’s being held to a much higher standard than a male politician would be,” said Emily Knapp, 26, of Ithaca, N.Y., who is considering voting for Clinton. She noted “how often people talk about her appearance and the boxy pantsuits she prefers.”
But Gwendolyn Posey, 44, of Prague, Okla., who plans to write in Sen. Ted Cruz’s name on her ballot said Clinton was held to a lower standard.
“Because everyone is captivated by the first woman president possibility, she isn’t being held to the same rigorous standards that men are held to,” Posey said. Still she added: “To be fair, Trump is being held to no standards at all.”
Leaving aside the question of whether Clinton is the right woman for the job, just 47 percent of Americans think it would be a good thing for the country to elect a female president, while 11 percent think it would be a bad thing, and 41 percent say it doesn’t matter either way. Among those saying that it would be a good thing, about half say it’s extremely or very important to them that it happens during their lifetime, while another third call it somewhat important.
Despite gains made by women in elected office, more than half of Americans say gender discrimination remains a problem for women in politics, while about 3 in 10 feel the opportunities are about the same. About 2 in 10 think women have more opportunities.
Even people such as Linda Gaarn, 70, of Asheboro, N.C., who plans to vote for Trump, agreed that the playing field was uneven.
“Men have always been the politicians and in politics and the woman have stood back,” Gaarn said.