As Hillary Clinton was giving a speech about the crisis of sexual assault on Monday, pundits were obsessing about her shocking drop in support from women voters. Where 71 percent said they planned on voting for Clinton in July, only 42 percent do now, according to the latest Washington Post-ABC News poll, though she still leads both Vice President Joe Biden and Sen. Bernie Sanders among women by about 20 points. This is supposed to be yet another development that dooms her 2016 campaign.
Clinton’s campaign could in fact be doomed – the Beltway media is certainly invested in dooming it, and the non-stop coverage of her email non-scandal is taking a toll. But there’s nothing shocking, or fatal, about the drop in her support among female voters.
First of all, Clinton only won the women’s vote narrowly in 2008, besting Barack Obama by just 2 percent. So by that comparison, she's still doing fantastically well among women. Her 71 percent share of the Democratic women's vote was always illusory; it reflected her unrivaled name recognition, Sanders' relative obscurity, and the now-outdated assumption that Biden wouldn't run.
It's also worth noting that her biggest decline is among white women -- only 37 percent of Democratic-leaning white women now say they support her, as opposed to 60 percent of Democratic-leaning women of color. By the way, Clinton’s dominance among non-white voters continues to be her strongest asset. Sanders’ share of voters of color has only inched up from 9 to 13 percent since July, despite his laudable efforts to address issues of race in his class-focused campaign. Biden’s support among these voters has risen from 13 to 21 percent.
The drop in Clinton’s support among women also makes sense given that we know women don’t merely support female candidates just because they’re women. Trust me: In the still-unlikely event that Bernie Sanders faces Carly Fiorina in November 2016, he will win the women’s vote decisively.
Women are, overall, more progressive voters than men, which likewise means they should be expected to look positively at Sanders’ campaign. In polls, women are more likely than men to say that income inequality – Sanders’ self-described top issue – is a serious problem that government should take major steps to address. To better appeal to women, Clinton may find that she needs to increase the populism of her appeal.
Finally, Clinton has endured a non-stop drumbeat of faux-scandals that can't help but take its toll on her standing with all voters, including women. Even as major news organizations have had to walk back their charges of criminal investigations into Clinton’s use of a private email server; even as it took those news organizations four days to report on a Justice Department report finding she had permission to use delete her personal email; those same news organizations get to report on their self-fulfilling narrative: "Our terrible coverage of Clinton’s email woes has led to a voter perception that she’s not trust-worthy!" Ya think?
I’m not saying Clinton has run a perfect campaign, or that she couldn’t have handled earlier questions about her use of email better, or that she wouldn’t be better off with higher support from women voters. I just think this new round of “Here’s why Clinton is doomed” stories has a lot in common with prior rounds: It’s specious, but it will probably hurt her nonetheless.
Will it hurt her as much as Donald Trump is hurting the GOP long-term? That’s unlikely, but the double standard when it comes to telling the truth about the suicidal rightward drift of the Republican Party is just part of the political landscape now.