Is Obama's Victory the End of "You Go Girl" Politics?

I do not want to overstate Iowa's importance. But last night in Iowa, "Obama got 35 percent of women voters, compared to 30 percent for Clinton and 23 percent for Edwards. This despite the fact that Clinton focused her campaign on bringing fellow women to the polls." I have not yet seen the age splits (only "entrance polls") on these numbers (I think younger women probably skewed to Obama), but I wonder if there will be a lot of noise from pundits that Obama's victory signals a shift in how women vote. I thought so too. At any rate, Clinton's "You go girl" message was just not enough to get a majority of women to vote for her in Iowa, and while it feels surprising, it should not be, even though traditionally the messaging of political women's groups like EMILY's List, convinces us that women will vote for women. I can't tell you the times I have heard, "if only women saw more women in office, they'd not only vote more, they would run more too." It's a nice message.

But Iowa's result is actually supported by data. Women do vote slightly more for women, but mostly, women vote for Democrats, and women candidates tend to be Democrats. It is possible that given the choice between two (three, actually) strong Democrats in Iowa, the fact that one was a woman was not enough to trump.

Jennifer Lawless, an expert on women candidates and 2006 Congressional candidate, clarified the trope of women voting for women when she noted back in April 2007,

Women do tend to vote for female contenders, but that doesn't necessarily translate into a gender preference, explains Jennifer Lawless, a political scientist at Brown University who studies women candidates. What happens, she says, is that women are more likely to vote for Democrats, and women candidates are more likely to be Democrats.

Lawless believes that Clinton will actually face challenges in attracting women primary voters. For starters, all the candidates are Democrats, so the party-label advantage goes away.
"Women tend to prefer outside candidates," Lawless says. "Hillary Clinton is not the outside candidate. She's the establishment candidate." Women are also more likely to back liberal candidates. "Clinton's by far not the most liberal of the bunch."

Others aren't surprised at Obama's win with women. My friend Maria, a political scientist cum consumer marketing consultant says "The excitement of first woman president I don't think resonates with younger folks - I think it's more of an old school feminist appeal. I think generally younger people would be more excited by Obama's multicultural background than Hillary as a woman."

Lisa Stone, co-founder of BlogHer who's been covering politics for a long time, wrote: " every survey I've ever done women decry the idea of voting for a woman just because of her gender. Especially boomers."

Over on BlogHer last night, Marilyn from Land of Moo commented to me: "What's mystified me over the last year+ of this campaign is why so many women DO support Hillary. Sometimes I wonder if they're blinded by gender. For ME (just MY opinion), she has so many negatives that her gender can't possibly overcome them. And I'm an old-school feminist."

Well, I'm a new school feminist, and I supported Hillary because of her gender. I think it's important to get more women in high office (esp. because the US ranks 82nd in the world in female representation, and look at the state of our government), and the only way to do it is to vote them in. But Iowa has me questioning my choice. Good thing I have 'til Feb. 5 to decide.

*For more on women candidates, see Lawless, Jennifer L. and Richard L. Fox. It Takes a Candidate: Why Women Don't Run for Office. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2005.

PS: Jennifer Lawless, if by chance you read this, I would love to see your thoughts in the comments!