Women were 59% of the voters in the Pennsylvania primary and 57% of them voted for Hillary Clinton. There clearly is a gender gap in this primary election, but it's not necessarily what you think.
Women, overall, don't necessarily default to the female candidate, despite conventional wisdom. Only 4% of those exit-polled said gender was most important to their decision, and 15% said it was only one of several factors considered. Of those 15%, 72% of them voted for Hillary. So, if gender is your thing, then you put Hillary's XX chromosomes in the mix, but there are other important reasons women voted for Hillary last night and why the female voter seemed to be galvanizing around her.
When it comes to picking a candidate, women are tougher customers. Despite the stereotype that they respond best to the themes of "making Her-story," women actually care more about the substance and details of a candidate's position on the issues than men do.
While Obama is good on inspiration and optimism, Hillary gets more down and dirty on the economy, tax policy and education. This is especially true during the final stretches of the campaigns. And this could be one of the reasons why last minute voters went to Hillary.
Women also want the candidate who they can connect with and who shows them that they care. Last night Clinton won 56% of voters who ranked "cares about people" as their top candidate quality. Clinton also beat Obama (barely) in exit-polls on how in touch the candidate is with people like you.
Also, women like candidates who speak to their desire for control over their lives. In Hillary's victory speech she noted that she was in the race to "fight for anyone who has been counted out." Most women, at one point or another in their careers, have felt that glass ceiling and can relate to the underdog messaging. She connected with their sense of wanting control.
With Indiana and North Carolina around the corner, if Obama wants to chip further into Hillary's gender gap he doesn't need to worry about being a man. What he does need to do is give women voters more details on policy and do a better job of communicating that he understands their real life situation.
Research shows that women are more skeptical of the political process and take longer to cultivate but that, once you have them, they are extremely loyal and use their word-of-mouth marketing prowess to support their candidate.
This is another reason that support for Clinton is consolidating. The Wall Street Journal points out that around 25% of Clinton's supporters said they would vote for Sen. John McCain rather than Obama, while 16% of Obama's supporters claim to prefer the presumptive Republican nominee to the former first lady.
Women aren't a niche audience this election cycle. How you reach them is as important as acknowledging their electoral heft.
Note: Blog was written before exit poll numbers were finalized. Some of the numbers may have changed.