Thursday, February 01, 2007

Identity Voting

Mark Schmitt, whom I hold in great esteem, has a long post up at TAPPED on the question of whether Hillary Clinton's ace card in the 2008 presidential race is her hidden support among women, even those who don't agree with her on major issues.

Mark's actually responding to a blogospheric exchange with one Linda Hershman, who published a Washington Post op-ed piece basically arguing that women are too apolitical, and too politically irrational, to get the job done for HRC. Mark effectively demolishes Hershman's condescending and anectdotal take on female political engagment, but also, perhaps overcompensating, disputes the Mark Penn/James Carville hypothesis that women will go for HRC more than for any other candidate with similar policy views. Indeed, he suggests Penn and Carville are playing into the same gender stereotypes as Hershman.

I just can't agree with Mark here, and not because I think women are more inclined than anyone else to indulge, on the margins, in identity voting, but because I don't think they, unlike everyone else, are entirely immune to it.

My empirical evidence here is less about HRC's polling numbers than about history.

Anyone who's looked at Catholic voting trends over the decades recognizes that Al Smith, and more spectacularly, John F. Kennedy, benefitted from massive and disproportiate support from Catholic voters who had no other apparent reason for voting for them. Jimmy Carter would not have been elected president in 1976 without huge southern identity support in states that went heavily Republican before and after his presidency. Bill Clinton won less overwhelming, but still crucial support in the South for the same reasons. And if you compare voting levels and margins in South Florida between 2000 and 2004, it's pretty apparent that the Gore-Lieberman ticket got into overtime in no small part because of Lieberman's ethnic appeal to Jews.

I understand that HRC arouses intense opposition from some outspoken women who view her as a feminist archetype they reject, or inversely, in some cases, as too subordinate or forgiving towards her husband. But JFK was also controvesial among Catholics; many clergy deplored him as too secular. It didn't much matter when it came to the ballot box.

The bottom line is that you don't have to get into invidious gender stereotypes to understand that yes, HRC, as the first really viable female candidate for president, is likely to get votes from women that aren't just a function of policy agreements or political alignment. And since unlike JFK or Carter or Lieberman, she represents a category of Americans that is a majority, not a minority in the electorate, I wouldn't personally be too quick to underestimate the impact of identity voting in her case.
-- Posted at 7:11 PM | Link to this post | Email this post

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