Battle of the Sexes, News of the Day

Oct 18, 2007 1:13pm

Clinton strategist Mark Penn fired an early volley in the battle of the sexes this morning, boasting at a breakfast with reporters that in a general election Hillary Clinton would win 24 percent of Republican women. Is that a shot across the GOP bow – or a puff of campaign smoke?

More of the latter, given our data.

In a head-to-head matchup against Rudy Giuliani in the latest ABC/Post poll, Clinton attracts 11 percent of Republican women – and an almost identical number of Republican men. No gender gap there, nor anything unusual. It’s customary for a small share of each party's loyalists to defect – around six to 13 percent, men and women alike – depending on the candidates' comparative attractiveness. (It can go higher in the case of a particularly lopsided race, and in the past Democrats, rather than Republicans, have been more vulnerable to defections – notably the Reagan Democrats of 1980 and ’84.)

Another way to look at the subject, which Penn may be less likely to raise, is the fact that Clinton's current advantage over Giuliani relies on self-described feminists. Among Americans who say they are not feminists (three-quarters of the public), Clinton and Giuliani run about evenly – 46 percent to 48 percent in our latest poll. Among feminists – 22 percent of the public overall, including 18 percent of men as well as 26 percent of women – it's a whopping 64-30 percent for Clinton.

Slicing the data directly by sex shows that Clinton owes her lead over Giuliani to women – Giuliani a scant +3 among men, Clinton +18 among women. And Clinton is notably competitive among married women (48-47 percent), a group central to George W. Bush's re-election; he won 55 percent of them in 2004.

But for her to get a quarter of Republican women is awfully hard to see, and certainly not supported by our current data. (Unless Penn is using a particularly expansive definition of Republican women, e.g., including some number of independents who lean toward the Republican Party.) In a predictive model, sex is a stronger factor that feminism in predicting vote preferences – but, as usual, neither comes remotely close to the strength of political party identification.

Penn might just be trying to rattle the Republicans, hardly unheard of in election politics. On the other hand, as the political battle of the sexes is sure to rage on in the months ahead, there’s the wisdom of Winston Churchill to keep in mind: "There is nothing so exhilarating," he wrote, "as being shot at with no result.”

Meanwhile… we’ve got some other data points to support the news of the day. Among them:

Goodbye to Brownback?

Republican Sen. Sam Brownback reportedly plans to drop out of the 2008 presidential campaign Friday. It’s hardly a shock: Brownback’s support hasn’t exceeded the low single-digits nationally nor in any individual state, save his home state of Kansas, where he ran evenly with Mitt Romney in a survey last May. In early states, his latest showings were two percent support in Iowa, less than one percent in New Hampshire and one percent in South Carolina.

The “Real Conservative”

Fred Thompson, meanwhile, is rolling out internet ads declaring he’s the “real conservative” of the Republican presidential candidates.  It makes sense: Conservatives are potentially fertile ground for Thompson, given doubts about Giuliani and John McCain alike in some core Republican groups.

In our most recent ABC/Post poll, Thompson was supported for the nomination by 22 percent of Republican and Republican-leaning conservatives – second to Giuliani – vs. 11 percent of moderates and the few liberal Republicans, running fourth in that group.

Moreover, 29 percent of conservative Republicans say Thompson "best reflects the core values of the Republican Party," vs. 25 percent for McCain and just 18 percent for Giuliani. And Thompson approaches Giuliani among conservatives in trust to handle immigration (24 percent to 32 percent), a hot-button issue in the GOP base.

The Tennessean is clearly seizing on what he sees as an opportunity within his party.

Chemical Ali: Retribution vs. Reconciliation

However satisfying it may be to families of his victims, the apparently imminent execution of Ali Hassan al-Majid, a.k.a. Chemical Ali, hardly looks helpful in terms of resolution of the sectarian divisions ripping through Iraq. Majid, Iraq’s former defense minister, has been convicted of ordering poison gas attacks against Kurdish civilians the 1980s.

If Saddam Hussein’s execution offers any insight, the same punishment for Majid may only further divide Iraqis. The national poll in Iraq we conducted last March found vast sectarian differences in views of Saddam's execution: Sixty-two percent of Shiite Arabs said it was helpful in bringing about reconciliation in their country, but 96 percent of Sunni Arabs said the opposite – that it only made reconciliation more difficult.

Here's the result:

Do you believe the execution of Saddam Hussein was helpful in bringing about reconciliation in Iraq, or do you think it made reconciliation more difficult?

3/5/07                Made more       No   
             Helpful     difficult     effect (vol.)
All            36%          53              12    
Sunni         2            96                1      
Shiite       62            25              14      
Kurdish     33           39               27      

.. and S-CHIP

Finally, there’s the question of the House’s failure today – by 13 votes – to override President Bush’s veto of a $35 billion increase in the State Children’s Health Insurance Program. Our poll found broad (72 percent) and strong support for the increase – making this the president’s least popular veto (majorities, but smaller ones, supported expanded federal funding for stem-cell research and a deadline for withdrawing for Iraq, his two previous vetos).

It’s hard not to support children’s health, and data from Gallup suggest views on the issue may be movable to the extent that it's debated more on income eligibility or “socialized medicine” grounds. Still, in our data, even 61 percent of Republicans supported expanding S-CHIP – which may help explain why 44 Republicans in Congress bucked the White House and voted in favor of the failed override.

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