Judith Warner in a New York Times column says NO, according to a deep analysis of polling data. Her article is fascinating reading and should concern Hillary Clinton very much indeed.

While a near-unanimous majority of the American public tell pollsters that they are ready for a woman president, the results are vastly different when the question is asked in a different way. Warner attributes the difference to a polling phenomenon known as “social desirability” in which people are known to give pollsters politically correct answers.

They study she sites used a polling technique called “list experimentation” to conclude that the idea of a woman president actually makes a healthy portion of the population angry.

The article was published in Judith Warner’s “Domestic Disturbances” column in the New York Times, from which the following are key excerpts:

Trying to Imagine a Woman in the White House
by Judith Warner

Is America ready to elect a woman president?

These days, the most frequent answer is an unambiguous yes. A Newsweek poll last month found that 86 percent of Americans said they would vote for a qualified woman for president. A Los Angeles Times/Bloomberg poll last week found that only 4 percent of registered voters said they would not vote for a woman for president.

Support for the idea appears to be near-unanimous. (A CBS/New York Times poll last year found that 92 percent of people were willing to vote for a qualified woman.) But there’s a curious thing: when the question about women is phrased differently – as in “Do you believe America is ready for a female president?” – this lovely consensus falls apart.

In Newsweek’s poll, only 55 percent of respondents said they believed that America was ready. Gallup and CNN – and the New York Times – found similar results: at most, 61 percent of their respondents said they thought their compatriots could accept a woman in the White House.

Why the discrepancy …


But there’s also a much simpler theory, based upon a simple fact: People lie to pollsters. Consistently. And particularly on loaded issues like race and gender.

Political scientists call this the effect of “social desirability.”

“If I have a position that’s different from a perceived social norm, I’m going to suppress it because I don’t want to appear to contradict that norm,” explains Matthew Streb, an assistant professor of political science at Northern Illinois University, in DeKalb, who released survey results this week suggesting that a considerable portion of the electorate may, in fact, be lying to hide politically incorrect feelings about a female presidency.

Using a technique called a “list experiment,” Streb’s team of researchers found that up to 26 percent of voters were actually made “angry or upset” by the idea of a woman serving as president.

Here’s how it worked: Slightly more than 2000 respondents were split into two randomized groups. One group was given four statements – on rising gasoline prices, million-dollar-plus salaries for professional athletes, mandatory seat belts and pollution – and was asked how many of the statements made them angry or upset. Another group was also given a fifth statement, on a woman serving as president, and was asked the same question. The second group showed an increase in the mean number of items that made them angry; the researchers attributed that rise to the “woman serving as president” statement.


This phenomenon of white voters overstating their support for black candidates to pollsters is known as the “Bradley effect,” named after Tom Bradley, the Los Angeles mayor who lost his bid for governor of California in 1982 after polls indicated he’d be the winner. The same desire to seem appealing comes out when people are polled on things like church attendance and adultery. Respondents even exaggerate their support for abortion rights if they’re questioned by a female pollster, Streb told me.


It would probably behoove Clinton’s strategists to find out why nearly half of our country doesn’t believe we’re ready for a female chief executive. We wouldn’t, after all, want ignoring their concerns to come to be known in 2009 as the “Hillary effect.”

Hat tip: these nice people.

[tags]female, woman, president, hillary+clinton, Judith+Warner, polls, social+desirability[/tags]