Cracking the glass ceiling: Hillary Clinton’s US presidential nomination

Hugely significant cultural turning point appears to underwhelm many women

The Democrats do theatre too. "I can't believe we just put the biggest crack in that glass ceiling yet," Hillary Clinton told their convention in Philadelphia on Tuesday night to the amplified sound of smashing glass and raucous cheers. And indeed, however anticipated, the moment is a genuine milestone in US politics, the first nomination by a major party of a woman candidate as its choice for president. Objectively it is a cultural turning point of huge significance, but underwhelming to many women with shorter memories or who have not identified with the struggle for women's equality.

Unlike blacks, who rallied to Barack Obama in huge numbers, the significance of his election wasclear to them personally, women appear less willing to do so for Clinton to enable her to achieve what many seem not to see as a breakthrough. Despite a traditional Democratic advantage among women, according to a Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll this month, only 52 per cent of registered women voters from both parties support Clinton. And that proportion falls to the mid-30s among white women over 35.

As the paper points out, “some women voters appear indifferent to another glass ceiling shattered. More women graduate from college than men. They are the main breadwinners in four of 10 US households. They run General Motors , PepsiCo and IBM . . .”

Clinton’s declining personal popularity does not help. Sixty-eight per cent say she isn’t honest and trustworthy, and though Donald Trump’s personal ratings are only marginally better, he has benefited from a bounce in the polls from the Republican convention last week. He has moved from 10 points behind in March-April to a slight lead in several polls. The election is far from a foregone conclusion.


Importantly, polls show that nine in 10 supporters of Bernie Sanders, the Democrats' left-wing losing contender, say they will vote for Clinton in November. To party organisers' chagrin, however, the minority of dyed-in-the-wool "Bernie or Bust" campaigners appear all to have turned up at the convention, noisily to make life hell for Clinton.

Sanders has made no bones about his support for her and the imperative of defeating Trump. He has reminded supporters, with cause, that their campaigning has made the party programme more left-wing than in generations.

His base among white voters without a college degree – 44 per cent of voters – is Clinton's Achilles' heel, the demographic where Trump leads her consistently and more strongly than Mitt Romney achieved against Obama. To them she represents big money and the political establishment, a cold fish. Husband Bill Clinton began the process of humanising her on Tuesday with an account of the woman he knows. But it is an uphill and difficult rebranding operation.