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Politics & Government

Is The Country Ready For A Female President? Pollsters Weigh In

LINDA WERTHEIMER, HOST:

Last week, Hillary Clinton made history.

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HILLARY CLINTON: We've reached a milestone. The first time...

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CLINTON: The first time in our nation's history that a woman will be a major party's nominee.

WERTHEIMER: It is an historic moment. But how much of it is a factor in this election? We spoke with two pollsters who have been tracking voter reactions to Clinton, Democratic strategist Margie Omero and Republican Kellyanne Conway. We started by asking Conway if she thinks Americans are prepared to elect a woman president.

KELLYANNE CONWAY: Well, the question around Hillary Clinton is not is the country ready for a woman president, but that woman president. The country has been ready for a long time for a female president. But it's absolutely impossible to divorce Hillary Clinton from Hillary Clinton's gender in many voters' minds.

WERTHEIMER: So what do you think, Margie? How do you see it?

MARGIE OMERO: Well, it is challenging to measure bias. I mean, people have biases that they don't want to volunteer, and they have biases they don't even know about. And that makes this question of are people ready to vote for a woman challenging to ask because people aren't quite sure how to answer it. You have to glean it from people's responses. And, as Kellyanne points out, it's not always easy to separate out the question of what woman president you're talking about.

WERTHEIMER: One of the special things about this election, of course, is having a woman running at all the first time. That's a very big deal. But having a woman running against Donald Trump is also a very big deal, I think. He's producing a gender gap that is unusually large. How does that change the equation? [POST BROADCAST CORRECTION: Linda Wertheimer misspoke in saying the 2016 presidential election is different by "having a woman running at all the first time." A number of women have run for president in the past, including Hillary Clinton in 2008.]

OMERO: Well, it is a real challenge for Republicans who, after the last presidential election, said we need to focus on reaching out to women and to minorities and to younger voters. And in all - a lot of those respects, Trump is really not following through with that commitment that a lot of Republican folks really rightly had. And as a result, he does very badly with women. I mean, he - you know, married women's a group that actually went for Mitt Romney by seven points, and even despite that he still came up short.

But yet, in the last poll that I saw among married women Trump was down 12 points against Clinton. So if he can't make up that ground, he's going to have to make up the ground somewhere else. And that's going to be a very, very high hurdle for him.

WERTHEIMER: What do you think, Kellyanne? Is this gender gap going to destroy his chances, do you think?

CONWAY: Let's talk about the gender gap Hillary Clinton has, can we? I mean, men don't like - they dislike her. They distrust her. And they don't want her to be commander-in-chief. George W. Bush lost women in two consecutive elections to Al Gore and John Kerry, neither of whom had a particularly uplifting, compelling message. But he lost women twice and won the White House twice.

The fact is the gender gap has always existed. And Hillary Clinton has a really hard time with men. And Donald Trump is losing to her among women right now. So it's not like we're encountering something new to these two candidates.

One thing that's of fascination to me is where do all - I mean, literally the millions of women who voted for Bernie Sanders go now? There's very little indication that they're all going to march towards Hillary Clinton. They could have done that all along. It took real courage to vote against her in the first place.

WERTHEIMER: What about Elizabeth Warren? There are people who have actually suggested that she might run with Hillary Clinton on the ticket. But would it work? I mean, do you think the Democrats would actually nominate two women?

OMERO: I think you'd have a lot of folks who'd be really excited. I don't know how you test if America's ready for two women. I mean, you know, certainly we've been ready for two men for a really long time. Nobody asked that question. So I think the only way we know if we're ready is if it happens. If we wait until some moment comes when we think we're ready, then we've waited too long.

WERTHEIMER: Kellyanne, do you think that would be a ticket you'd like to be running against?

CONWAY: Yes, it is. The asset of putting in Elizabeth Warren on the ticket is she's a proxy for Bernie Sanders. They come from same wing of what's becoming increasingly liberal, progressive, way outside the mainstream Democratic Party. The liability for Hillary Clinton in choosing Elizabeth Warren is very easy to see. She could be easily upstaged by Elizabeth Warren. And Hillary Clinton does not like to be upstaged.

WERTHEIMER: Now since Clinton ran against Obama in 2008, do you think the polling shows any kind of a change in the attitude of voters and their readiness to accept a woman president? Has Obama changed anything, do you think?

OMERO: I don't know if we can really measure that. I mean, that - again, it's hard for people to report that properly or honestly or even know their - how they feel about it. I do think that the more we have women running for office of both parties, it demonstrates readiness. And it also encourages women and shows to men of both sides that there are lots of different faces possible for elected office. I don't know if it's because of Obama. I don't know if it's because time has passed. But it just seems like a good development.

WERTHEIMER: Kellyanne?

CONWAY: Even someone like me who doesn't support his policies was incredibly moved when Senator Obama was elected president of the United States. I thought it was a wonderful moment and milestone for this country. In some ways, it's very difficult to see polling where you can parallel the elevation and election of an African-American to the presidency and a woman.

And I think that's been almost a miscalculation by the Clinton forces. It certainly was a miscalculation in 2008 when I guess they figured, hey, there are more women than African-Americans in the Democratic primary, therefore we'll have more votes. I mean, that's just not the way people look at themselves. And of course, he won. And I think he won by appealing to everyone within his party. And it's not clear - in fact, it's very unclear that Secretary Clinton has been able to do the same.

WERTHEIMER: Kellyanne Conway, Margie Omero, thank you very much.

CONWAY: Thank you.

OMERO: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Corrected: June 12, 2016 at 11:00 PM CDT
NPR's Linda Wertheimer misspoke in saying the 2016 presidential election is different by "having a woman running at all the first time." A number of women have run for president in the past, including Hillary Clinton in 2008.