The gender factor: Is that actually an obstacle for Hillary Clinton?

Hillary Clinton’s liabilities have been endlessly chewed over by the punditocracy:

She’s too tied to Wall Street. Out of step with the Democratic left. Prone to “dead broke” mistakes. Hardly a fresh face. Another Clinton. Benghazi.

But there’s one question that hasn’t been discussed lately. Indeed, it seemed to have been written off as a non-issue. But it popped up in a largely overlooked part of a Washington Post/ABC poll:

Nearly one-quarter of Republicans surveyed, 24 percent, say the fact that Hillary would be the first female president makes them less likely to vote for her. Only 8 percent say they would be more likely.

Think about that for a moment. Those Republicans are telling pollsters that they are simply not comfortable with the idea of a woman in the Oval Office.

We’re at the point where this sort of thing doesn’t even get discussed in polite company. Yes, women are underrepresented in Congress, and yes, many states like New York and California have never had a female governor, and yes, many cities like New York and L.A. have never had a female mayor. But if Germany has Angela Merkel and Britain had Margaret Thatcher, won’t America eventually take that step?

Even Sarah Palin, while hinting at her own desires about 2016, told ABC the other day: “America has had enough of seeing that sign on the Oval Office door saying ‘No Girls Allowed.’”

Clinton, after all, has already played on the world stage, both as first lady and secretary of State. And while she ran almost as a gender-neutral candidate in 2008, she’s made clear that this time she’ll cast herself as a trailblazer who can shatter the ultimate glass ceiling.

It’s obviously fair to talk about how Hillary could pull a stronger-than-usual women’s vote, just as Barack Obama drew record support from blacks. In the poll, 40 percent of Democrats say Hillary’s gender makes them more likely to vote for her (while two-thirds say it makes no difference).

So is the potential downside fair game for discussion as well?

And it’s not just Republicans: “Ten percent of independents, 10 percent of women, 9 percent of self-described ‘liberals,’ and even 5 percent of liberal women say the same.”

No, I can’t explain that last group either. A bit of self-loathing, perhaps?

A Post blogger tries to explain away the Republican finding by suggesting it really just reflects anti-Hillary sentiment. Meaning, if you don’t like a candidate, you tend to respond negatively to questions surrounding that person. The same would apply to Jeb Bush, who is drawing low approval ratings in part because some people don’t like his brother.

But even if half the don’t-want-a-woman crowd could be explained away in this fashion, that would still leave a significant number of general election voters who would be difficult for Hillary to win over.

Maybe this will be a drag on Hillary’s candidacy, and maybe it will be outweighed by women eager to vote for her. But you can be sure that the former first lady—and her husband—have given it some thought.

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