A gender gap has already emerged in the 2016 presidential contest with Hillary Rodham Clinton in the mix, and one of the biggest chasms between men and women is on the question of whether the former secretary of state can be trusted.
Polls show that Mrs. Clinton’s integrity has taken a hit from revelations about her exclusive use of a private email account for official business at the State Department and potential conflicts of interest involving foreign donations to the Clinton Foundation.
But women are much more likely to give Mrs. Clinton the benefit of the doubt when considering her honesty, according to a Quinnipiac University Poll.
On the question of whether Mrs. Clinton was honest and trustworthy, women were almost evenly divided, with 43 percent saying she was versus 47 percent who said she was not.
By comparison, men overwhelmingly did not trust her. Just 33 percent of men said the former first lady, senator and top diplomat was honest and trustworthy, compared with 61 percent who answered “no,” according to the nationwide poll released last week.
But somehow, men and women agreed in the survey that the email secrecy scandal was an important issue in the election and that Mrs. Clinton has left questions about it unanswered.
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About 55 percent of men and 51 percent of women said the email scandal was very or somewhat important. Asked whether Mrs. Clinton had given satisfactory answers, a majority of both sexes — 62 percent of men and 63 percent of women — said questions remain.
Nevertheless, those opinions failed to deter nearly half of women from putting their trust in Mrs. Clinton.
Women also were more likely to back Mrs. Clinton on questions related to overall favorability, leadership and whether she cares about the needs and problems of ordinary Americans, the last of which being a claim Mrs. Clinton has made a cornerstone of her nascent 2016 presidential campaign.
On all of these character measures, Mrs. Clinton fares much worse among men.
Men gave her credit for strong leadership qualities, 57 percent to 39 percent, compared with women at 67 percent to 28 percent.
“My guess is that sexism explains at least some part of the gender gap,” said Rebecca S. Bigler, a professor of psychology and of women’s and gender studies at the University of Texas at Austin.
“Males show higher levels of gender stereotyping and gender prejudice than females throughout the entire life course,” she said, adding that believing stereotypes such as “women are weak” causes men to oppose women for president.
Men also are more likely to pick men over women, though Mrs. Clinton would benefit from gender prejudice among women, she said.
“Women should be more inclined to like Clinton than should men,” said Ms. Bigler.
Overall, 54 percent of registered voters said Mrs. Clinton was not honest and trustworthy, while 38 percent said they trusted her, found the poll.
Despite doubts about her veracity and character, Mrs. Clinton remains the undisputed front-runner for the Democratic presidential nomination. She captures 60 percent in a theoretical primary contest, while her closest potential competitor, Vice President Joseph R. Biden, polls at a mere 10 percent.
Mrs. Clinton also benefits from a gender gap in theoretical matchups against potential Republican rivals, capturing more than 50 percent of the female vote to help her win in every matchup.
The Clinton campaign has said it will play up Mrs. Clinton’s bid to make history as the first female president more so then she did in her 2008 run, in which she lost the Democratic nomination to Barack Obama, who then became the first black president.
Mrs. Clinton has kept her sex in the conversation on the campaign trail by repeatedly reminding voters that she is a grandmother, which also helps her connect with voters on a personal level.
“When I talk with fellow grandparents, I can see it in their eyes. We share the joy in seeing our little ones start to thrive — but also a sense of responsibility to do everything we can to leave them a world with more opportunity,” Mrs. Clinton wrote in an op-ed Monday in The Des Moines Register.
Her popularity with women — as well as the reluctance of female voters to scrutinize her character — could even give Mrs. Clinton a built-in advantage.
“Women vote more frequently than men — that’s a given. That would argue for it not necessarily hurting her. It might help her,” said Tim Malloy, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Poll.
Former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina, who is expected to launch her presidential run next week, also has made sex an issue as she tries to stand out as the only woman in a crowded GOP field.
“I think that if Hillary Clinton were to face a female nominee, there are a whole set of things that she won’t be able to talk about,” Mrs. Fiorina said recently. “She won’t be able to talk about being the first woman president. She won’t be able to talk about a war on women without being challenged. She won’t be able to play the gender card.”
But Mrs. Fiorina, a businesswoman who has only once run for public office — and did so unsuccessfully — has yet to gain traction with voters in her party.
The Quinnipiac Poll showed her at the back of the pack, with around 1 percent of the likely Republican primary vote. She also had slightly more support among men than among the women, though the numbers and the sex gap are both so small as to essentially be rounding errors.
Republican presidential candidate Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida posed the biggest threat to Mrs. Clinton in theoretical general election matchups, slightly trailing her 45 percent to 43 percent.
She edge him out with the help of women voters, who solidly backed her — 51 percent to 37 percent — over Mr. Rubio. That 14-point spread was slightly better than Mr. Rubio’s 12-point advantage among men, 50 percent to 38 percent.