news

Clinton as the first female president: Why aren't young women convinced?

By LUCIA OSBORNE-CROWLEY

That so many young, female voters appear to be supporting Bernie Sanders over Hillary Clinton reflects the fact that women are being drawn to policy as much as gender in this US presidential race, writes Lucia Osborne-Crowley.

In recent weeks the world has been fixated on the tightening race for the Democratic presidential nomination between former secretary of state Hillary Clinton and Vermont senator Bernie Sanders.

As the all-important New Hampshire primary results roll in and Sanders claims victory, election deliberations have gravitated towards the question of why he – and not Clinton – is performing so well among young, progressive female voters.

This issue was thrust into the limelight last week when Madeleine Albright and Gloria Steinem publicly scolded women who supported Sanders over Clinton.

“We can tell our story of how we climbed the ladder, and a lot of you younger women think it’s done. It’s not done … There’s a special place in hell for women who don’t help each other,” Albright, the US’s first female secretary of state said in a rally in New Hampshire on Saturday.

Earlier, Steinem, a prominent feminist, suggested younger women were drawn to the Sanders camp because they were searching for men.

“When you’re young, you’re thinking: ‘Where are the boys? The boys are with Bernie’,” she said.

But is Sanders really winning over more millennial women than Clinton?

In New Hampshire, polls suggest he is. And in last week’s Iowa caucuses, women under 29 chose Sanders over Clinton at an alarming rate of six to one. Nationally, a poll reported by USA Today in January found women under 35 favoured Sanders over Clinton by a margin of almost 20 points.

Young women who support Sanders are expressing the sentiment that they do not feel obliged to vote for Clinton based on her gender alone; that they do more than “vote with their vaginas”. Millennial women identify with a feminism that encourages them to demand more than just womanhood from a female candidate; one that believes that in order to win their vote on women’s issues they must decisively protect and empower women through substantive policy outcomes.

While Clinton has consistently emphasised gender issues in her campaign – something she failed to do in 2008, losing her a large chunk of young female voters to Barack Obama in early primary states – Sanders’ policies on relevant issues are arguably more ambitious.

Clinton promises pay transparency and the Paycheck Fairness Act to fight the gender pay gap; paid family leave; a strong investment in childcare; a federal minimum wage; enhanced social security; and the protection of Planned Parenthood and the Affordable Care Act.

ADVERTISEMENT

But Sanders has also promised to pass the Paycheck Fairness Act and fight the pay gap, as well as the expansion of Planned Parenthood. And he vowed to raise the minimum wage to $15/hour, make childcare available to all Americans; provide at least 12 weeks of paid parental leave, two weeks of paid leave and one week of sick leave to all American workers; expand the WIC program, which provides nutrition assistance to pregnant women; universal Medicare and an expanded social security program.

Sanders’ popularity among millennial women relates also to the fact that their feminism and worldview are defined by belonging to a generation of voters politicised by the Global Financial Crisis and the economic inequality it exposed and fuelled – an issue Sanders has placed front and centre throughout his primary campaign.

But even if millennial women are gravitating towards Sanders based purely on these policies, identity and symbolism always matter in politics. To see history’s first female US president would be an important step forward in the fight for equal rights – and equal representation – for women globally.

To assume that Clinton’s gender has not handicapped her in a purely issues-based race would be an oversimplification. The rise of the “Bernie Bros” phenomenon – in particular how young, male supports of Sanders defend their chosen candidate on social media – show that gender is still very much a part of this campaign.

To see a woman with her qualifications and experience suffer defeat at the jaws of victory a second time could and should cause us to think deeply about our expectations of women in power. To appropriate the words of our own trailblazing female leader, Julia Gillard, gender may not explain everything about Clinton’s presidential bid, but it certainly doesn’t explain nothing.

Regardless of this phenomenon, polls suggest that once the primary season leaves New Hampshire and then South Carolina, the Clinton campaign may well regain a decisive lead. If Sanders is forced to concede the race, the women who support him will likely flock back to Clinton and support her against the pro-life likes of Marco Rubio, Donald Trump or Ted Cruz.

Even if Clinton beats Sanders to the nomination, the presence of the young women in Sanders’ campaign will be an important one. Because if and when Clinton faces a Republican candidate this November, she will do so knowing that a generation of young women expect a leader who not only represents them in form but in substance, and one who can advance the progressive agenda that Sanders has encouraged them to believe in.

Lucia Osborne-Crowley is a journalist, writer and university tutor in US politics. She tweets at @LuciaOC_

This post originally appeared on ABC News.

© 2016 Australian Broadcasting Corporation. All rights reserved. Read the ABC Disclaimer here.

00:00 / ???