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Kennedy Struggling To Win Over Key Demographic: Women

Here’s something interesting from the recent Quinnipiac poll on the New York Senate vacancy. There is essentially no difference among women and men when it comes to picking New York’s next Senator. Among New York men, 32 percent want Governor Paterson to appoint Caroline Kennedy to take Hillary Clinton’s seat, versus 27 percent for Andrew Cuomo. Among women, 33 percent want Kennedy, and 31 percent Cuomo, a statistically insignificant difference.

Women seem to be able to separate out any personal affections they might have for Kennedy (or her kinfolk) from their perception of her qualifications to serve in the Senate. Exactly 50 percent of women have a favorable view of Kennedy, as opposed to 14 percent unfavorable — a significantly wider favorability gap than Kennedy gets from men, among whom 42 percent have favorable opinion and 21 percent an unfavorable one. But, women are no more likely than men to say that Kennedy is qualified for the position. Among women, 40 percent think she is qualified to serve in the Senate and 39 percent think she isn’t — not a statistically significant difference from the response among men, of whom 39 percent call her qualified and 43 percent do not.

Of course, there is no hard-and-fast rule that women support other women candidates more than men do. But it usually works out that way — at least when the woman is a Democrat. Since 2006, Democratic women running for the Senate have gotten an average of 57 percent of the women’s vote as compared with 49 percent of the men’s vote (these figures exclude women like Kay Hagan that were running against other women). That 8-point gap is twice the size of the gender gap on this year’s Generic Congressional Ballot, where 56 percent of women supported the Democrat as opposed to 52 percent of men.

2008              Women       Men
Figures (AL) 39% 32%
Landrieu (LA) 57% 47%
Shaheen (NH) 60% 45%
2006 Women Men
Klobuchar (MN) 63% 52%
Stabenow (MI) 60% 53%
McCaskill (MO) 51% 46%
Clinton (NY) 73% 61%
Cantwell (WA) 60% 57%
AVERAGE 57% 49%

As we perhaps learned with Sarah Palin, women are not amused by other women whom they perceive to be unqualified — and it probably isn’t helpful to Kennedy that she has Hillary Clinton’s shoes to fill. Still, for a candidate campaigning (yes, she’s campaigning) so heavily on personal rather than political qualities, this is not the response that one would expect.

Nate Silver founded and was the editor in chief of FiveThirtyEight.