Does Hillary Clinton’s Gender Give Her an Advantage?

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Debunking Donald Trump’s implied assertion.

By Tom Jacobs


Hillary Clinton speaks during her primary night gathering at the Philadelphia Convention Center on April 26, 2016. (Photo: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Donald Trump declared on Tuesday night that “If Hillary Clinton was a man, I don’t think she’d get five percent of the vote.” Immediately after implying that being female gives Clinton some sort of advantage — presumably increasing her appeal among women voters — he added that “women don’t like her.”

As is so often the case with Trump, it’s hard to parse his contradictory remarks. But if indeed he was asserting that being a woman gives the former Secretary of State an advantage, is there any evidence to back that up?

Some recent research suggests the answer is: very little.

A January 2014 report on “Women and Leadership” from the Pew Research Center, based on a survey of 2,800 American adults, found female candidates are perceived to have certain attractive qualities:

Political compromise has been in short supply in recent years, particularly in Washington, DC. Many adults (34%) think that female politicians are better at working out compromises than their male counterparts. Only 9% say men are better. A narrow majority (55%) say there’s no difference between men and women in this regard.

Women are also perceived to have an edge over men when it comes to being honest and ethical (34% say women are better at this; 3% say men are better at it). Women have a somewhat narrower advantage over men when it comes to working to improve the quality of life for Americans and standing up for what they believe in despite political pressure. For both of these characteristics, solid majorities say there is no difference between men and women.

However, the poll found these results were largely driven by Democratic voters:

When it comes to political leadership, Democrats are significantly more likely than Republicans to say that women do a better job than men on each of the attributes tested in the poll. For their part, Republicans are not necessarily more likely to favor men in these areas, but they are more inclined to say there isn’t any difference between men and women.

Democratic women in particular are strong proponents of female political leaders. In most cases, they are more likely than both Democratic men and Republican women to say that female political leaders do a better job (than) men.

The issue of gender politics was re-visited three months ago, when the polling firm Morning Consult conducted a survey for 538. It asked voters “Would you be more or less likely to vote for a candidate who is a woman?”

The survey found answers varied by both gender and party affiliation. Twenty-eight percent of Democratic women and 23 percent of Democratic men said “yes.” But only 15 percent of Republican men, and a tiny eight percent of Republican women, answered in the affirmative.

It’s interesting that GOP women were the least likely demographic to find being female an attractive quality in a political candidate. Perhaps Trump’s assertion that “women don’t like her” was based on comments he has heard from female Republicans.

Meanwhile, George Washington University political scientist Danny Hayes, co-author of the upcoming book Women on the Run: Gender, Media, and Political Campaigns in a Polarized Era, argues that a candidate’s gender “plays a minimal role in the vast majority of U.S. elections.”

Hayes argued in a 2015 interview that, while the public believes the media is biased against women candidates, and those women are less likely to win elections, such perceptions are, for the most part, wrong:

We systematically looked at media coverage of 800 U.S. House races involving more than 1,500 candidates across two different election cycles from 2010–2014. It turns out that female candidates run virtually identical campaigns as men — from the issues they talk about to the language they use to the personal traits they stress. They are just as likely to be covered fairly by the media as men. Voters are just as likely to regard women as strong leaders. The bottom line is: When women run for electoral office, they are just as likely to win as men.

If Hayes is correct, gender is not likely to play a major role in the outcome of the presidential race. Those Democratic women who said being a female makes a candidate more attractive would most likely vote for the Democratic nominee, whomever he or she may be.

Perhaps the more interesting issue is whether women voters are actively turned off by a male candidate who regularly spews sexist rhetoric.