Against The Grain

Hillary Clinton’s Problem With Men

Clinton is performing as poorly with men as Republicans do with Hispanics. She won’t win a general election unless she can close the gender gap.

Clinton is trying to re-create President Obama's coalition from 2012. Is that a realistic proposition?
Jonathan Torgovnik AFP/Getty
Josh Kraushaar
Add to Briefcase
Josh Kraushaar
Oct. 7, 2015, 8 p.m.

When Hil­lary Clin­ton entered the pres­id­en­tial race, she ex­pec­ted to win over­whelm­ing sup­port among wo­men in her bid to be­come the first fe­male pres­id­ent. In­stead, she’s find­ing out that an un­pre­ced­en­ted level of res­ist­ance to her can­did­acy among men is un­der­min­ing the con­ven­tion­al wis­dom that she’d be the strongest Demo­crat­ic nom­in­ee in the gen­er­al elec­tion.   

Put an­oth­er way: Clin­ton is now nearly as un­pop­u­lar with men as Don­ald Trump is with wo­men. That’s say­ing something.

The latest round of polling for Clin­ton is bru­tal. This week’s NBC News/Wall Street Journ­al/Mar­ist sur­vey in Iowa shows her fa­vor­ab­il­ity rat­ing with men at a mere 27 per­cent, while two-thirds view her un­fa­vor­ably. Her minus-39 net fa­vor­ab­il­ity with men is 28 points worse than Vice Pres­id­ent Joe Biden and 27 points be­hind Sen. Bernie Sanders. The story is the same in New Hamp­shire, where the NBC/WSJ/Mar­ist poll found both Sanders and Biden with net-pos­it­ive rat­ings, while Clin­ton’s ap­prov­al is deeply un­der­wa­ter, stuck at 30 per­cent.

The swing-state polling is a mir­ror im­age of her na­tion­al num­bers. Last week, Quin­nipi­ac found Clin­ton’s neg­at­ive rat­ings with white men at a stun­ning 72 per­cent—sig­ni­fic­antly worse than the Demo­crat­ic Party’s already-ser­i­ous struggles with that demo­graph­ic group. Mean­while, she’s not per­form­ing at nearly a strong-enough level with wo­men to coun­ter­act the prob­lem. Only 49 per­cent of wo­men viewed her fa­vor­ably in the poll, with 47 per­cent hold­ing neg­at­ive views. For all the self-in­flic­ted prob­lems that Re­pub­lic­ans have in reach­ing out to a di­ver­si­fy­ing coun­try, Hil­lary Clin­ton’s fa­vor­ab­il­ity with white men is worse than Jeb Bush’s with His­pan­ics, Ben Car­son’s with Afric­an-Amer­ic­ans, and Carly Fior­ina’s with wo­men in the same sur­vey.

In­deed, in poll after poll, both Biden and Sanders run much more com­pet­it­ively against Re­pub­lic­an chal­lengers, al­most en­tirely be­cause they don’t turn off half of the elect­or­ate.  

If Clin­ton is look­ing to nar­row the gap­ing gender gap, she isn’t show­ing it. In­stead, her cam­paign looks to be do­ing the op­pos­ite—ral­ly­ing her lib­er­al base and try­ing to lock down sup­port­ers that once seemed squarely in her camp. She sat down for an in­ter­view last week with Girls cre­at­or Lena Dun­ham, where she un­der­scored her fem­in­ist bona fides. She’s ap­peared on tele­vi­sion shows with a siz­able fe­male audi­ence, in­clud­ing El­len, in hopes of mak­ing her look more re­lat­able. Her call for ro­bust gun con­trol in the wake of the Ore­gon school shoot­ing isn’t go­ing to make her any friends with Demo­crat­ic gun own­ers, who are dis­pro­por­tion­ately male. The early dia­gnos­is from the cam­paign is that she’s un­der­achiev­ing with wo­men—her nat­ur­al base—and that’s the most cru­cial short-term fix, not the dis­mal show­ing with men.  

Part of her back-to-the-base strategy is to counter mo­mentum from Sanders, who is shap­ing up as a ser­i­ous threat against Clin­ton, at least in the New Hamp­shire primary and Iowa caucuses. Sanders’ biggest weak­ness is on guns—he’s op­posed vari­ous gun-con­trol meas­ures dur­ing his con­gres­sion­al ca­reer—and Clin­ton is now ad­voc­at­ing for stricter reg­u­la­tions to draw a sharp con­trast. Even among Demo­crats, Clin­ton lags be­hind Sanders with men, but she holds sig­ni­fic­ant ad­vant­ages with wo­men. As the only wo­man in a primary field of men, it’s lo­gic­al to play to your primary strength.

But at some point, her cam­paign will have to grapple with why her sup­port has cratered so badly among men. Did the cam­paign’s ini­tial plan to play up Clin­ton’s soft, grand­moth­erly per­sona back­fire at a time of mount­ing glob­al tur­moil? Is it a con­sequence of the cam­paign’s un­abashedly lib­er­al turn on so­cial is­sues, par­tic­u­larly on abor­tion rights, im­mig­ra­tion, and gun con­trol? Or is it simply a product of her over­all low ap­prov­al num­bers, dampened by the on­go­ing de­vel­op­ments about her hand­ling of clas­si­fied email at the State De­part­ment?  

Make no mis­take: Biden is lean­ing in­to the pres­id­en­tial race dir­ectly be­cause of these elect­ab­il­ity is­sues. He ex­pressed little in­terest in the race un­til Clin­ton’s num­bers star­ted to tank. Look at his re­cent cam­paign-style sched­ule; he’s already demon­strat­ing that he’s able to uni­fy dis­par­ate ele­ments with­in the Demo­crat­ic Party—back­slap­ping uni­on rank-and-file in Pitt­s­burgh on Labor Day, hold­ing an event about com­bat­ing sexu­al as­sault weeks later, and giv­ing a well-re­ceived key­note ad­dress to the Hu­man Rights Cam­paign last week­end. Among the gen­er­al elect­or­ate, Biden fares bet­ter than Clin­ton with both wo­men and men. He’ll subtly make the case that nom­in­at­ing Clin­ton is too much of a risk to take in such a con­sequen­tial elec­tion—an ar­gu­ment that seems to be re­ceiv­ing a fair hear­ing at the White House.

It’s aw­fully iron­ic that some of the Demo­crat­ic Party’s sharpest strategists, who once saw Clin­ton as uniquely cap­able of mo­bil­iz­ing the Demo­crat­ic base be­cause of her ground­break­ing bio­graphy, are now hedging their bets—by look­ing at the 72-year-old Biden as a more-cred­ible can­did­ate cap­able of stop­ping the party’s prob­lems with men.

What We're Following See More »
Senate Intel Postpones Testimony by Cohen
1 days ago
Senate Rejects Effort to Nix SALT Tax Changes
2 days ago

"Senate Democrats on Thursday failed in their first attempt to save the state and local tax deduction, which helps many residents of California and other high-cost states reduce their federal income tax bills. The Republican-controlled Senate voted 52-47 to reject an amendment that would have prevented the Senate from considering any bill that repeals or limits the deduction as part of a planned tax overhaul."

Lewandowski Meets with Senate Intelligence Committee
2 days ago

"President Donald Trump's former campaign manager Corey Lewandowski appeared on Capitol Hill for a closed-door interview with the Senate intelligence committee Wednesday, according to a source familiar with the matter. Lewandowski is the latest senior official in Trump's orbit who has met with the committee as part of its investigation into Russian election meddling and possible collusion with the Trump campaign."

Some Members Seek to Wrap Up Russia Investigations by Year’s End
3 days ago

"A growing number of key Republicans are sending this message to the leaders of the congressional committees investigating potential Trump campaign collusion with the Russians: Wrap it up soon. In the House and Senate, several Republicans who sit on key committees are starting to grumble that the investigations have spanned the better part of the past nine months, contending that the Democratic push to extend the investigation well into next year could amount to a fishing expedition."

Trump: Marino Withdrawing Nomination for Drug Czar
4 days ago

Welcome to National Journal!

You are currently accessing National Journal from IP access. Please login to access this feature. If you have any questions, please contact your Dedicated Advisor.