Polls Show Clinton Support Remains Stronger Among Women The Gender Gap Of The Past Is Still Present. For Many Females, Policies Appear To Matter More Than Scandal.

Posted: January 28, 1998

WASHINGTON — As Bill Clinton struggles with accusations about his relationship with one young woman, he is counting on his political popularity with millions of women to help see him through.

Polls show women are more likely than men to want Clinton to remain in office, even if it turns out he had an affair with a 21-year-old aide, and even if he did encourage her to lie about it, allegations that Clinton has flatly denied.

``Women find this [scandal] ridiculous, and men are anti-Clinton,'' said Georgetown University sociologist Suzanna Walters after a survey of her students.

Interviews with analysts and American women revealed the gender gap, most notably that women like Clinton's policies and are more interested in what he does on the job than in his personal life. What's more, they are more likely to question the motives of a female accuser.

That might also help explain why women's groups have remained noticeably silent. They were largely silent as well when Paula Jones accused Clinton of sexual harassment.

``Women are his core supporters, and core supporters stand with a candidate,'' said Andrew Kohut, a pollster and director of the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press. ``Men are more apt than women to be critical of Clinton on all grounds.''

Among the gender differences shown in one of several polls:

* 39 percent of women believe Clinton had an affair with a former White House intern, compared with 48 percent of men, according to a Wall Street Journal/NBC poll.

* 32 percent of women think Clinton should be impeached if he did have the affair, compared with 43 percent of men.

* 51 percent of women think he should be impeached if he encouraged the aide to lie under oath, while 60 percent of men think he should be impeached.

Many women appear more skeptical of the allegation itself than men do.

Harriett Woods, former president of the National Women's Political Caucus and now a lecturer at the University of Missouri-St. Louis, said: ``We may all have observed the infatuated teenager, the groupie, the woman who initiates the contact. It does create some skepticism.''

Patricia Heinrich, whose family owns a farm near Lubbock, Texas, agreed, saying: ``Women realize how vicious other women can be. . . . They can see how the actions of someone can be misinterpreted, or how you can read things into a situation that aren't really there.''

But even if they believe Clinton had the affair with the former intern, Monica Lewinsky, they tend to be more forgiving than men.

``So what if he did have sex with her? His sex life doesn't have anything to do with how he runs the country,'' said Shawnte Kee-Bey, a student at the University of Akron.

Angela Frazier, manager of a research company in Detroit, said she didn't care about Clinton's personal life. ``I don't think who he sleeps with has anything to do with how he runs the country,'' she said.

That's a key question for women, because of Clinton's support for issues that appeal to women, such as government subsidies for child care, for family-leave policies, for environmental protection.

Clinton has always enjoyed stronger support from women than from men. In 1996, men split their vote evenly between Clinton and Republican Bob Dole, but women chose Clinton by a 55-37 margin.

And women have helped Clinton come back from scandal before.

Diana Owen, a political scientist at Georgetown University, said his support among women dropped when allegations of womanizing surfaced in the 1992 campaign.

``He was able to earn it back with his policies, with his recognition of women, placing women in positions of authority,'' Owen said. ``He was viewed as being supportive of women, so these things didn't matter.''

However, Clinton's appeal to women makes the allegations particularly troublesome to feminist groups, said Dede Wolfson, co-coordinator of one group, the Minnesota Women's Consortium in St. Paul.

She would prefer not to jump to conclusions, she said. ``But it's so difficult when things keep surfacing.''

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