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Omero: Preferences for a woman nominee?

Topics: gender , Obama , Supreme Court

In the days leading up to Obama's announcement of his Supreme Court nominee, polling suggested voters were not very focused on the potential candidate's gender or race.  According to a CNN poll released over a week ago, very few said it was important to have a Hispanic or black nominee.  And almost as many women (58%) as men (65%) said it was not important for Obama to pick a woman.  A Gallup poll from around the same time showed similar results.

But, now that Sonia Sotomayor has been named, a new Gallup poll shows a gender gap has emerged.  Of the last four nominees, she has the largest gender gap in support.  There isn't male animosity toward Sotomayor, as they are evenly divided on her nomination.  However, women are overwhelmingly supportive (54% excellent/good idea, 25% only fair/poor), with three times as many finding her an "excellent" pick as a "poor" one.

Gallup suggests this gap could stem from gender differences in party identification.  But the gender gap in party identification has been consistent for some time, yet only Alito also evoked a gender gap (a smaller one, in the opposite direction).  And it is not simply the nomination of any woman that spurs a gap, as Harriet Miers was not any more popular with women.  It is likely the combination of both the nomination of a woman, and women's Democratic proclivities that produce the gap.  

But something else strikes me as important.  Despite voters' claims that a nominee's gender or race is irrelevant, Sotomayor's gender does seem to improve her standing with women.  This suggests voters may be unwilling, or unable, to report preferences they may have for a candidate of a specific race or gender.  It reminds me of this 2007 Washington Post survey, in which more voters said they would be less likely to vote for a smoker than less likely to vote for a black candidate or woman candidate.  These questions frequently measure socially acceptable attitudes about such preferences, rather than the preferences themselves.

 

Comments
sfcpoll:

"This suggests voters may be unwilling, or unable, to report preferences they may have for a candidate of a specific race or gender."

This is possible, but the CNN and Gallup data also look similar to the way they would if women and men were reporting responses exactly the same way before and after the pick.

There's a 7-point gender gap in support for a woman candidate, and given CNN's low undecided numbers, we can fairly assume women are 7 points more likely to say it's at least somewhat or very important that the nominee is a woman. Next, there's only a 12-point gender gap in the Gallup poll between women and men. I would expect a much larger gender gap in the current ratings to suspect an unwillingness or inability to report preferences on the gender of a nominee.

Voters, in fact didn't claim that a nominee's gender was relevant, more than a third said it was important. Nevertheless, you're probably correct that partisanship, rather than identity issues related to gender, is the chief operator here.

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