By James D. Agresti
September 28, 2017
In a recent interview on CBS This Morning, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg spurred the audience to applause by saying she had “no doubt” that sexism played a role in Hillary Clinton’s 2016 election loss. Ginsburg provided no evidence to support this claim, and a scientific poll conducted just before the 2016 presidential election casts doubt on it.
This national poll, which was commissioned by Just Facts and carried out by a professional polling firm, surveyed 700 people who vote “every time there is an opportunity” or in “most” elections. In addition to 25 other questions, the poll asked, “All other things being equal, if you were faced with a choice between a male and a female presidential candidate, who would you vote for?” Each voter was given the option to reply “Male,” “Female,” “It does not matter,” or “Unsure.”
Overall, 69% of voters said “It does not matter,” 15% preferred a female, 12% preferred a male, 3% were unsure, and 1% refused to answer.
Male voters and Trump voters were more likely than any other groups to say “It does not matter,” at 73% and 72% respectively. Most of the other groups were not far behind, with rates of:
- 71% for 35 to 64 year olds.
- 67% for Clinton voters.
- 67% for 65+ year olds.
- 66% for undecided voters.
- 64% for females.
With 95% confidence, the above results are all within the poll’s margins of sampling error. Accounting for these margins with precision, voters were 2.3% less likely to 8.0% more likely to prefer a female over a male.
Beyond this, the most significant difference among these groups is that Trump voters were more likely to prefer a man, while Clinton voters were more likely to prefer a woman. Among Trump voters, 25% preferred a male and 2% preferred a female. Among Clinton voters, 27% preferred a female and 5% preferred a male.
Another notable outcome is that both 12% of men and 12% of women preferred a male, but 9% of men and 20% of women preferred a female.
Polls must contend with the issue of respondent honesty, particularly when it comes to sensitive questions. The fact that 27% of respondents said they would favor someone based on their gender shows that a sizeable portion of the public is willing to express politically incorrect views about this issue to a pollster. Also, the dissimilar responses of males, females, Trump voters, and Clinton voters reveal forthrightness.
A Decisive Factor?
After Ginsburg said that sexism played a clear role in the election, CBS anchor Charlie Rose asked her if sexism was the “decisive” factor in Clinton’s defeat. Ginsburg replied, “There’s so many things that might have been decisive, but that was a major, major factor.” Again, Ginsburg provided no evidence to support this claim.
Just Facts’ poll did not measure the intensity of preference for a male or female candidate. Thus, it cannot determine if gender outweighed all other factors and changed anyone’s vote or impacted turnout.
However, Clinton’s campaign implicitly encouraged people to support her on the basis of her gender by employing the slogan, “I’m with her.” Prominent Clinton supporters have been more explicit and passionate about their views. For example, feminist icon and former Secretary of State Madeline Albright scolded young female supporters of Bernie Sanders by stating, “There’s a special place in hell for women who don’t help each other!” Likewise, Michelle Obama recently said, “Any woman who voted against Hillary Clinton voted against their own voice.”
The poll was conducted by Conquest Communications Group, a professional polling firm located in Virginia. The responses were obtained through live telephone surveys of 700 voters across the continental United States on October 11–23, 2016. The margin of sampling error for all voters was plus or minus 4% with at least 95% confidence. The margins of error for the subsets of voters were 5% for males, and 5% for females, 6% for Clinton voters, 7% for Trump voters, and 10% for undecided voters.
Ginsburg Interview Transcript and Video
CBS anchor Charlie Rose interviewed Justice Ginsburg on September 26, 2017. A transcript and video of the pertinent segment appears below.
Rose: When do you think we’ll see a woman as president?
Ginsburg: When do I think?
Rose. Um hum.
Ginsburg: Well, we came pretty close.
Rose: Do you think sexism played a role in that campaign?
Ginsburg: Do I think so?
Ginsburg: I have no doubt that it did. [Applause]
Rose: Do you think it was decisive?
Ginsburg: Do I think?
Rose: In other words, if Hillary Clinton had been a man, she would have won that election going away?
Ginsburg: There’s so many things that might have been decisive, but that was a major, major factor.