In 2008, many people were enthusiastic about the prospects of then-U.S. Sen. Hillary Clinton becoming the nation’s first female president.
But now, five years later and three years before the next presidential election, there’s more proof Americans are more ready than ever for somebody to break the Oval Office gender barrier.
A new poll commissioned by the pro-choice group EMILY’s List has found voters in battleground states are overwhelmingly supportive of the idea of electing a woman as president; 90 percent say they’d vote for a “generally well-qualified” female nominee of their party, and 86 percent say the country is ready for such a person.
When pollster Lisa Grove, of Anzalone Liszt Grove Research, asked battleground state voters when that might happen, 72 percent said it was either very or somewhat likely that our next president will be a woman.
“We were stunned by these numbers over here at EMILY’s List,” said Stephanie Schriock, the group’s president. Schriock said the poll represents the kickoff of a campaign called “Madam President,” which is designed to promote the idea of a female chief executive.
The poll sampled 800 voters in Colorado, Nevada, New Hampshire, Iowa, Ohio, Wisconsin, Florida, Virginia and North Carolina. The margin of error is 3.5 percentage points. Grove also did interviews with 300 likely primary voters or caucus goers in Iowa, New Hampshire and here in Nevada.
The poll shows the public’s appreciation of a woman as president exceeds, say, that of Hollywood. While “The West Wing” ran for seven seasons with strong female characters, it never depicted a woman as president or vice-president. A short-lived show starring Geena Davis as a female vice president suddenly thrust into the Oval Office after the death of the male incumbent — titled “Commander in Chief” — died after just 18 episodes. And while women have been depicted as strong vice presidents in movies (Glenn Close in the Harrison Ford vehicle “Air Force One,”) or strong aspiring presidents (Sigourney Weaver as a Clinton-like secretary of state in the ABC miniseries “Political Animals”), they’ve rarely been shown to audiences in the top job.
(One exception to this rule is science fiction: Mary McDonnell played a tough, unlikely president of the 12 colonies during four seasons of the 2004 re-imagined series “Battlestar Galactica.”)
In real life, however, people seem much more inclined to view a woman as president: Clinton actually won just more than 50 percent of Nevada’s caucus vote in 2008, and kept the race competitive for then-Sen. Barack Obama. She’s the most often mentioned candidate for 2016, although the poll didn’t focus on specific people.
The poll also found voters believe women do politics differently than men, and in some cases better. On issues from protecting women’s health care rights to understanding the plight of middle-class families to improving education to ending “partisan bickering,” women outpaced men in the poll. (Men were rated better at working with our allies, improving the economy and on national security.)
And the traditional knocks against a female president seem to be eroding, too: Asked their views on whether a woman could be perceived as weaker as a man in the top job, 47 percent said yes. But just a quarter of voters said a woman would be more likely to cave to party leaders.
Partisanship still comes into play: Schirock said she’d clearly vote for someone she agrees with over a female candidate whose political views she found objectionable.
But the point of the poll, and of EMILY’s List itself, is to make sure the woman people envision as president is a Democrat who shares that party’s views.
The group’s next step is town hall meetings later this year to promote the “Madam President” campaign, including one here in Las Vegas. It’s never too early, after all, to start practicing that phrase.
Steve Sebelius is a Review-Journal political columnist and author of the blog SlashPolitics.com. Follow him on Twitter (@SteveSebelius) or reach him at (702) 387-5276 or firstname.lastname@example.org.