Hillary Clinton Fights To Win Over Her Own Demographic: White Women

Jun 9, 2016
Originally published on June 14, 2016 1:44 pm

Women, as a bloc, are loyal Democratic voters. But under that giant gender umbrella, there's a lot of nuance.

White women traditionally support the Republican nominee for president. And this is particularly true of white, suburban, married women.

In fact, President Obama lost white women by 14 points (56 percent to 42 percent) in the 2012 election, according to exit poll analysis.

Shrinking that gap is key to Hillary Clinton's plan to win the White House, particularly to offset any potentially low Democratic turnout among young voters.

And although Clinton will be the first female nominee of a major party, there are questions about whether she can actually win over her own demographic.

The suburbs of Ohio, a key swing state, are a testament to that challenge. Those suburbs are home to two very different kinds of white women Clinton would like to court: women who voted for Mitt Romney four years ago and women like Laura Henry, who voted for Bernie Sanders just a couple of months ago.

"I feel really terrible about this election because I feel like I've not been left with any good choice," Henry said as she sipped a Frappuccino with colleagues at a coffee shop.

Henry said she has reservations about Clinton and her use of a private email server while acting as secretary of state.

"I don't know if I trust her," she said. But on the other hand, Donald Trump scares her.

"I cannot vote for Trump so, therefore, I will vote for Hillary," she said.

This process of elimination may benefit Clinton when it comes to Sanders' supporters. After all, they already lean left. But what about more conservative women?

Melissa Deckman, a professor at Washington College who focuses on women and politics, thinks Clinton could feasibly win more white women than Barack Obama did four years ago — not necessarily because of her policies, but because she has a Trump card, literally.

"I think the best offense for Hillary Clinton, frankly, is just to keep pointing out how weak and how unpresidential someone like Donald Trump is, and I think it really could help her make inroads to suburban women voters," said Deckman.

The thought of a Trump presidency is a compelling argument for some women, such as Greer Fitzgerald; she considers herself a "fiscally conservative, socially liberal person."

Fitzgerald is meeting up with a group of mothers for a book club discussion in a suburb east of Columbus. As she sits down to dinner, she explains that she voted for Obama in 2008 but flipped to Romney in 2012 because she was frustrated with the pace of the economic recovery. This election year, she has only one political focus on her mind: Trump.

"He's a cartoon. ... He's a misogynistic, completely racially-like inept. I don't know, I'm gonna get flustered," she said, as she trailed off, unable to articulate the rest of her feelings about Trump at that moment.

Fitzgerald says she can't imagine Trump meeting with world leaders.

"I can't even see him as an actual political figure. His foreign policy is to build a wall, well, that's my 3-year-old's policy — to close the door between her and her sister so they can't get in a fight anymore," she said.

Fitzgerald is crossing her fingers for a third-party candidate but, realistically, she says she'll very likely support Clinton.

"I probably will give my vote to Hillary only because I'm more passionate about Trump not getting there than I am about my indifference to Hillary," she said.

But "indifference to Hillary" is rare; Clinton is a polarizing figure for a lot of people. The Real Clear Politics polling average shows 56 percent of people have an unfavorable opinion of her.

And, undoubtedly, many of those people are Republican women. But part of Clinton's "winning white women" strategy must include reaching Republican women who are disenchanted with the presumptive GOP nominee.

Sarah Minto is one such Republican. She lives in an affluent suburb north of Columbus with three teenage kids. She's the type of Republican who appeared in a campaign ad for Romney in 2012 but also voted for Obama in 2008.

This year, she supported Ohio Gov. John Kasich in the primaries. She says Trump makes her "stomach turn."

"He has no real policies," she said. "To me, he's in it for himself. He's very self-centered and will do and take whatever gets him to the top."

And so, in theory, she said she would be willing to cross the aisle.

Minto said she wouldn't necessarily admit this to her friends, but she kind of likes Hillary Clinton. "She would be the first woman president, which means she would probably do a pretty good job of running the country because she wants to show that women are capable," said Minto.

But she, too, is deeply concerned about Clinton's emails.

"She can't be trusted. She just lies over and over and she doesn't think it's a big deal," said Minto.

And so Minto feels stuck; her dislike for Trump's temperament is matched with a distaste for Clinton's behavior.

She says she's a forgiving person and Clinton could hypothetically win her vote.

"If she took credit for everything she has screwed up on and everything she's lied about and said 'I am sorry and I apologize to my country and I apologize to my people for doing this and for trying to hide it, and here's what I'm going to do so that I can begin to regain your trust,' that would be huge," said Minto.

But she's highly skeptical Clinton would ever do that.

So, this November may be an unprecedented election for Minto.

"I have never not voted in a presidential election ... this may be the first year in my life that I do not vote for a president," she said.

But if Clinton wants to win the suburbs, she needs to convince women like Minto that a vote for her is better than an abstention.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

Hillary Clinton is on track to be the first woman leading the ticket of a major party, but can she win her own demographic? White, married, suburban women traditionally vote Republican. In fact, President Obama lost white women by 14 points in the 2012 election. Shrinking that gap is key to Clinton's plan to win the White House. NPR's Asma Khalid went to the suburbs of Columbus, Ohio, to talk to some of those women.

ASMA KHALID, BYLINE: Hillary Clinton is hoping to win over two very different kinds of white women - women who voted for Mitt Romney four years ago and women like Laura Henry who voted for Bernie Sanders just a couple of months ago. Henry and I stopped to talk at a coffee shop.

LAURA HENRY: I feel really terrible about this election because I feel like I've not been left with any good choice.

KHALID: As she sips a Frappuccino, Henry tells me she has reservations about Clinton and her use of a private email server while she was secretary of state.

HENRY: I don't know if I trust her.

KHALID: But, she says...

HENRY: I cannot vote for Trump, so therefore I will vote for Hillary (laughter).

KHALID: This process of elimination may benefit Clinton when it comes to Sanders supporters. They already lean left. But what about more conservative women?

Melissa Deckman is a professor at Washington College. She focuses on women and politics and thinks Clinton could win over more white women than Barack Obama did because she has a Trump card - literally Donald Trump.

MELISSA DECKMAN: I think the best offense for Hillary Clinton, frankly, is just to keep pointing out how weak and how unpresidential someone like Donald Trump is, and I think it really could help her make inroads to suburban women voters.

KHALID: Women like Greer Fitzgerald.

GREER FITZGERALD: I consider myself a physically conservative, socially liberal person.

KHALID: I meet Fitzgerald at a mom's book club, and she tells me she voted for Obama in 2008 but flipped to Romney in 2012. She was concerned about the pace of the economic recovery. I asked her what she's thinking about this year's election, and she immediately rips into Trump.

FITZGERALD: He's a misogynistic, completely racially, like, inept - I don't know. I'm going to get flustered.

KHALID: So Fitzgerald is crossing her fingers for a third-party candidate. But realistically, she says...

FITZGERALD: I probably will give my vote to Hillary only because I'm more passionate about Trump not getting there than I am about my indifference to Hillary.

KHALID: But indifference to Hillary is kind of rare. Clinton's a polarizing figure for a lot of suburban women I talked to. Sarah Minto is a Republican, but she says Trump makes her stomach turn. She would be willing to cross the aisle at least in theory. She voted for Obama in 2008. This year, she supported Ohio Governor John Kasich in the primaries. Minto told me she wouldn't necessarily admit this to her friends, but she kind of liked Hillary Clinton.

SARAH MINTO: She would be the first woman president which means that she probably would do a pretty good job of running the country because she wants to show that women are capable.

KHALID: But she, too, is concerned about the emails.

MINTO: She can't be trusted. She just lies over and over, and she doesn't think it's a big deal.

KHALID: I ask her if there's anything Clinton could do to win her vote.

MINTO: If she took credit for everything she has screwed up on and everything she's lied about and said, I am sorry and I apologize to my people for doing this and for trying to hide it. And here is what I'm going to do so that, you know, I can begin to regain your trust, you know, that would be huge.

KHALID: But Minto is skeptical Clinton would ever do that.

MINTO: I have never not voted in a presidential election. This may be the first year in my life that I do not vote for a president.

KHALID: The thing is if Clinton wants to win the suburbs, she needs to convince women like Minto that a vote for her is better than an abstention. Asma Khalid, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.