05/09/2007 - When evaluating Sen. Hillary Clinton's 2008 prospects, one question remains inescapable: Are voters ready to elect a female president? On one level, the question would appear to be settled. In February, Gallup found 88% saying they would vote for a well-qualified woman for president. Contrast this with public opinion in 1969, the year Clinton graduated from Wellesley College. At that time, just 53% said they would support a well-qualified female presidential candidate.
As to opinion of Clinton herself, surveys by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press and other national polling organizations show a consistent gender gap in her support. Recent Newsweek surveys show that in a hypothetical contest against Republican frontrunner Rudolph Giuliani, half of female voters, compared with just 44% of male voters, said they would vote for Sen. Clinton.
A gender gap in opinions of Hillary Clinton is not new. It has been apparent since she rose to national prominence as one of the most politically involved first ladies in history. The pattern has been so consistent for such a long time, it raises the question of whether this is strictly a Clinton phenomenon, or whether it is characteristic of how American voters generally respond to female candidates.
Around the world, women are no strangers to contests for the top leadership position - France's Ségolène Royal being only the most recent, though unsuccessful, contestant. And women have been victorious in such elections in countries as varied as India (Indira Gandhi), Israel (Golda Meier), and Great Britain (Margaret Thatcher). But elections in other countries offer little or no guidance as to likely U.S. voter reactions to a female candidate among either men or women.
A better guide may be voting patterns in statewide elections. While these are not necessarily indicative of voters' willingness to support a woman in a nationwide presidential contest, they are probably the most relevant indication of the mindset of the current American electorate in this regard.
Read the full report Are Americans Ready to Elect a Female President? on the Pew Research Center Web site.