April 23rd, 2008
09:14 PM ET

Pennsylvania and the Gender Gap

Lisa Witter
COO of Fenton Communications and co-author, The She Spot: Why Women are the Secret to Changing the World and How to Reach Them

Women were 59% of the voters in last night’s Pennsylvania primary and 57% of them voted for Hillary Clinton. There clearly is a gender gap in this primary election, but it’s not necessarily what you think.

Women, overall, don’t necessarily default to the female candidate, despite conventional wisdom. Only 4% of those exit-polled said gender was most important to their decision, and 15% said it was only one of several factors considered. Of those 15%, 72% of them voted for Hillary. So, if gender is your thing, then you put Hillary’s XX chromosomes in the mix, but there are other important reasons women voted for Hillary last night and why the female voter seemed to be galvanizing around her.

When it comes to picking a candidate, women are tougher customers. Despite the stereotype that they respond best to the themes of "making Her-story," women actually care more about the substance and details of a candidate’s position on the issues than men do.

While Obama is good on inspiration and optimism, Hillary gets more down and dirty on the economy, tax policy and education. This is especially true during the final stretches of the campaigns. And this could be one of the reasons why last minute voters went to Hillary.

Women also want the candidate who they can connect with and who shows them that they care. Last night Clinton won 56% of voters who ranked “cares about people” as their top candidate quality. Clinton also beat Obama (barely) in exit-polls on how in touch the candidate is with people like you.

Also, women like candidates who speak to their desire for control over their lives. In Hillary’s victory speech she noted that she was in the race to “fight for anyone who has been counted out.” Most women, at one point or another in their careers, have felt that glass ceiling and can relate to the underdog messaging. She connected with their sense of wanting control.

With Indiana and North Carolina around the corner, if Obama wants to chip further into Hillary’s gender gap he doesn’t need to worry about being a man. What he does need to do is give women voters more details on policy and do a better job of communicating that he understands their real life situation.

Research shows that women are more skeptical of the political process and take longer to cultivate but that, once you have them, they are extremely loyal and use their word-of-mouth marketing prowess to support their candidate.

This is another reason that support for Clinton is consolidating. The Wall Street Journal points out that around 25% of Clinton's supporters said they would vote for Sen. John McCain rather than Obama, while 16% of Obama's supporters claim to prefer the presumptive Republican nominee to the former first lady. 

Women aren’t a niche audience this election cycle. How you reach them is as important as acknowledging their electoral heft.

soundoff (61 Responses)
  1. Don

    If we use the Reverend Wright comments and the reference of how could Obama remain a member of the church and not simply gotten up and left... Then the Catholic Church should probably be out of business with no remaining parishioners using a similar standard. I know I’d have left if I found out the church I attended was found guilty of molesting underage boys and children of the church. So what am I missing? Were these acts done in the name of god or just under the guise of god, in the house of god? What am I missing?

    April 24, 2008 at 10:30 pm |
  2. Don V

    Will the super delegates PLEASE use their votes in enlisting Al Gore to serve as president? The condition should be that he make Barack Obama his Vice President. Al Gore stands the best chance of beating John McCain.

    April 24, 2008 at 6:40 pm |
  3. Dallas

    Women have great intuition! I can't see how the Dem party supers can ignore how powerful the women vote is and how much we need it in the fall. GO HILLARY!

    April 24, 2008 at 2:10 pm |
  4. Taj

    Lisa, Barrack & Hillary are two greatly talented people. So, it is a tough call to choose for anybody. Either way, we will have a great president. McCain minus his Iraq strategy will be also OK.

    April 24, 2008 at 10:36 am |
  5. Tanya, Boston

    First, I want to know why everyone keeps saying that Obama has the popular vote. From what I can see, he has not won any of the core, big democratic states. He has won in a lot of states, but a lot of those are republican, where clearly republicans went to vote in open or semi-open primaries and they will go republican in November. So, as far as I can tell, Obama does not have the democratic popular vote. I would need someone to do the actual math, since, you guys have all of that detailed information that I am not privy to.

    Second, I don't think it is an asset to have the young vote. Young people are always driven more by passion than brains (speak from experience). And, the newer generations, I am sorry to say, seeing from my college students, are like sheep, they do anything that they think is popular. They will march for Darfur, but cannot find Sudan on the map. And, no, I am not an old foggie, I am 31.

    April 24, 2008 at 9:46 am |
  6. Oswald

    The issue of most of Sen.Clinton's supporters not willing to vote for obama if she is not the candidate and whereas a larger percentage of Sen. Obama's supporters saying that they will support her is food for taught.
    Deep rooted race based anger on one side and the kind heartedness of another, speaking of groups of people.
    CNN reporting on this did not break it down by race, which i think sould have been reported.

    April 24, 2008 at 9:37 am |
  7. Oswald

    Would Clinton had called for the delegates in Florida and Mitch. to be seated if she was in the position that Obama is and he being the under dog was trying to use that to his advantage ?

    The old folks always say "a drowning man or woman will clutch at a straw"

    April 24, 2008 at 9:20 am |
  8. Oswald

    Why can't Obama close the deal? well it is becoming quite clear that the clinton camp is out to get the nomination at any cost, and have resorted to doing and saying anything. it is quite timely that just before the primary in Phily the former president reintroduced the topic being the race game, which was first delt with months ago.

    Who stand to gain from race being a factor in this nominiation? since the whites and other groups outnumber the blacks, it is a silly to think that sen. Obama would gain from that.

    It is obvious that if persons are to vote race that sen. Clinton would win and ultimately that is the rational behind the timing of the race issue being floated around still.

    I am from guyana, and the poitice there is no different, other than we do not vote in primaries for candiates. we just vote in the general election, and the race in normally between two major parties widely backed by two major groups, blacks and East Indians.

    The funny thing is that these two groups lives together for 4 years in harmoney, then come electon time the party backed primarily by the indians accuses th other party of playing race and all hell break loose.

    Race should never be in the politics, but since the the youths of today are not as as race bias as the older folks, maybe someday it will not be much an issue.

    April 24, 2008 at 9:03 am |
  9. John

    i have a question.. dont' they just need 2025 delegates ? ok.. who is closer to 2025? ok.. rest my case.. who cares about wiinng big states?. small states don't matter..?
    small states people don't count?
    Hillary Clinton needs to quit..

    April 24, 2008 at 2:41 am |
  10. Barbara

    Surprising – given the $100 million an' all – but Hillary comes across as more empathetic.

    Barack gets it. But he suggests a cooler, more provocative personna. The future looks like a lotta work. And, while he offers an exciting challenge ("we are the change we've been waiting for"), after the trauma of the last 8 years, maybe some of us just need a hug.

    April 24, 2008 at 2:23 am |
  11. david

    One important point that is not no one is really taking about, come November, there will be Democrats vs Republicans not Democrats vs Democrats. I don't think that democrats will vote for republicans for 4 more years of this. American is ready for change.

    April 24, 2008 at 2:16 am |
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