Gender Gap Politics

Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., is the first woman in U.S. history to be a major party's leading candidate for president. But will sisterhood translate into women's votes, propelling the former first lady into the White House as the country's first female president?

Clinton has been the Democratic front-runner among both male and female Democrats since announcing her candidacy in late January. But, according to a recent ABC News poll, female Democrats are more likely to name Clinton as their pick for the Democratic nomination than her male counterparts.

In a Gallup Poll released Friday, 39 percent of female Democrats support Clinton as their top choice, compared with 29 percent of male Democrats, marking a 10-percentage-point advantage for Clinton with women in her party.

'We've Never Been in This Place Before'

Some suggest women are inspired by Clinton's candidacy because of the historic possibility of the first woman president.

"The excitement is there because this is the first chance to elect a woman president," said Ellen Moran, executive director of EMILY's List, the nation's largest political action committee dedicated to electing Democratic women, which has endorsed Clinton.

"This is a moment in history where we've got a woman candidate entering this race as a front-runner, and there's broad agreement that she can do this job and she would make a good president," said Moran. "We've never been in this place before."

Others suggest Clinton's gender gap advantage has more to do with her record on the issues.

"It's not surprising that Hillary Clinton has an edge among women; she has been a role model for an entire generation of women and has a voting record on issues that are of particular importance to women that is extremely strong," said Kim Gandy, president of the National Organization for Women, the largest women's rights organization in the United States.

Gandy said women usually favor the types of issues that Clinton champions, such as pay equality and health care.

"Sen. Hillary Clinton is talking about issues a majority of women voters care about like equal pay for comparable worth," added Donna Brazile, an ABC News consultant and the first African American woman to manage a major party presidential campaign.

Does Gender Matter?

The latest ABC News poll found that 72 percent of people asked said that a candidate's gender "wouldn't matter."

In that same poll, 37 percent of women under 30 said they're more likely to support a woman.

Mobilizing that vote -- turning stated support into actual votes -- is one of the primary missions of several women's organizations over the next two years.

EMILY's List is planning a major mobilization effort targeting women in the lead-up to the primary elections, in an effort to persuade them to vote for Clinton.

"We now have a unique opportunity to mobilize and persuade women on behalf of our first opportunity to put a woman in the White House and so we are going to bring all our methods and tools to bear," said Moran, noting women are often "hard to reach" but like to hear about candidates from other women.

Moran said EMILY's List is planning to reach out to women in primary states with door-to-door visits, Internet e-mails, mailings and telephone calls.

The 'X' Factor

In her inaugural campaign trip to Iowa last month, Clinton put the gender issue front and center.

"I know there are people who either say or wonder, would we ever elect a woman president? And I don't think we'll know until we try -- and I'm going to try, and I'm going to try with your help," Clinton said to some of her loudest applause.

"I'm going to be asking people to vote for me based on my entire life and experience," she said. "The fact that I'm a woman, the fact that I'm a mom, is part of who I am."

The Clinton campaign is paying particularly close attention to women voters.

Clinton campaign strategists Mark Penn and James Carville have dubbed it the 'X factor' for the 2008 presidential election -- the fact that 54 percent of voters in the United States are women.

"With the path-breaking possibility of this country's first female president, we could see an explosion of women voting -- and voting Democrat," Carville and Penn wrote in the Washington Post last year.

Clinton isn't the only Democrat actively courting women's votes.

Clinton '08 Democratic rival Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill. is making women's outreach a key component to his campaign.

"Obama is running a grassroots campaign focused on reaching out to women of all ages ," said Jen Psaki, deputy press secretary for the Obama campaign.

"The primary goal is harnessing the enormous amount of excitement and energy across the country and turning it into victory ten months from now. "

Senator Chris Dodd, D-Conn., is championing Senate legislation that would broaden the Family and Medical Leave Act to include six weeks of paid medical leave -- a bill applauded by women and family groups.

"Everyday, parents are forced to choose between the job and income they need and the family they love," the Senator said at a Capitol Hill press conference announcing his proposal last month.

The new legislation would allow U.S. workers to take at least six weeks off and still be paid — to have a baby, take care of a newly adopted child, recover from an illness, or take care of a sick child or family member.

Former North Carolina Senator John Edwards' campaign has focused on a populist message with much discussion about eliminating poverty and universal health care.

What isn't clear is how voters will respond to his campaign after he announced he would continue to seek the presidency, despite a bone-cancer diagnosis for his wife, Elizabeth.

"Do not vote for us because you feel some sympathy or compassion for us," said Edwards in an interview with Katie Couric on 60 Minutes. "The vote for the presidency is far too important for any of those things to influence it," he said.

According to the Center for American Women and Politics, women have voted in greater numbers than men in every presidential election since 1980.

And party loyalists agree Clinton's candidacy has changed the game.

"With Sen. Clinton in the mix, maybe the Democratic candidates are taking women voters more seriously, instead of just assuming they will get a gender break in general," said Donna Brazile.

Since 1980, a gender gap among voters has emerged, with women voting in greater numbers for the Democratic party, and greater numbers of men voting for the Republican party.

"The fact that Hillary Clinton has a significant gender gap is a huge advantage for her," said National Organization for Women's President Kim Gandy.

Experts say one of the things that hurt Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., in the 2004 election was that his gender gap wasn't as large as former Vice President Al Gore's 11-point advantage in 2000.

But, while Clinton enjoys a lead among Democratic women for the moment, the critical voting bloc cannot be taken for granted.

The latest ABC News poll found that Clinton's gender-gap advantage among Democrats narrowed in February, falling from a 19-percentage point lead in January to a 9-percentage point lead.

While pollsters cannot say for sure what accounted for the drop, it appears that the change occurred almost entirely among black women who are perhaps attracted to the candidacy of Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill.