Tears Worked? NPR Profiles Happy New Hampshire Hillary Voters

Did Hillary’s misty talk of how much she loved America and wanted to reverse the Bush administration help her win in New Hampshire? NPR’s All Things Considered on Wednesday night went looking for women voters who were moved. Co-anchor Melissa Block interviewed three Hillary voters in Manchester: "Do you think that the polls underestimated women here?" One said: "I think they really, really did. I think that people hadn't really looked at Hillary as a woman." Another story by Tovia Smith interviewed both a Hillary voter swayed by that "famous Oprah-esque moment" ("She just seemed to come across softer, I always thought of her as very -- I don't know, not that lovable") and an angry, racism-suspecting Obama voter, plus a professor who says her research shows even Obama supporters have an "unconscious" bias against him.

Melissa Block’s report didn't focus on issues (or God forbid, Hillary scandals), just the tears and the shared womanhood:

BLOCK: That Portsmouth moment has a lot of women talking here in New Hampshire. Today in Manchester, I got together with three women who voted for Hillary Clinton to find out why. They're between 29 and 36. All of them work outside the home. All are married. Two of them have children. They are Jillian Call(ph), Jessica Fay(ph) and Christina Anderson(ph) who begins. She was torn between Edwards, Obama and McCain. Then she saw the video of Clinton at the Portsmouth cafe.

CHRISTINA ANDERSON: When I saw what I saw, I didn't see an emotional woman. What I saw was a woman who was speaking from her heart, trying to convey why she truly was doing this. There is real passion, real conviction, determination and a sense of real obligation to her country. I really was touched by that absolutely. And I hate to be cliched, but it really actually - it resonated with me very strongly to see her boldly stating her purpose.

BLOCK: Jillian, did you see the video from that moment?

JILLIAN CALL: I saw it, but...

BLOCK: What’d you think?

CALL: It made you feel comfort, I think, because she was saying that she knows she can do that in the White House. She wants to do it and it would a shame to have her not in the White House to do it. And I think that that's - I don’t know, it's just - it did, like Christina said, it touched something. And I think she's absolutely what we need.

BLOCK: Let me ask you all to play pundit here, what do you think happened in New Hampshire? Jillian, what do you think happened?

CALL: I think a lot of people, like Christina, saw her talk in Portsmouth, and I really think that had an impact and people changed their vote.

BLOCK: You do? Christina, do you think that the polls underestimated women here?

ANDERSON: I think they did. I think they really, really did. I think that people hadn't really looked at Hillary as a woman. Maybe, it's just my personal opinion. I don't think that people looked at women connecting with Hillary for the opportunity for women to speak to the idea of having our first female president.

BLOCK: Jessica, let me turn to you. Does it mean something to you as a woman that you're voting for a woman candidate?

JESSICA FAY: Oh, absolutely. Yes. That is a big thing, too, that she's a woman, for sure.

BLOCK: Why is that?

FAY: I think the United States should have a woman president. I think it's about time, you know, to meet our needs and listen to us and get a woman in there to clean up all the men's messes that they've made over the years. And I think it's about time.

BLOCK: You have kids.

FAY: Yes, two.

BLOCK: How old are they?

FAY: I have a 4-year-old daughter, Charis(ph), 9-year-old son Chase. And my son Chase actually has special needs. He has Down syndrome. So, you know, the whole education and heath care is very important to me.

BLOCK: Do you think about the message to them that this would send to have a woman president?

FAY: It's funny you would say that, because we were watching last night and my daughter was, like, what are you watching? And we said, you know, we're watching the primary and we wanted – she went with me to vote -- so I explained it to her. And I said, you know, we want Hillary to win. You know, she's a woman, and we want -- we believe in her ideas, and we want her to win.

So when Charis when to bed last night, she said, ‘I hope Hillary wins.’ And then this morning, when she woke up, the first thing she said to me was, ‘Mommy, did Hillary win?’ And I said, yeah, she won. And she said, 'yay, Hillary won!' So she was excited was and she was telling everybody in the day care that Hillary won. [Laughter] They're like, are you brain washing her already? And I was like, ‘sure am.’ So it was pretty fun.

BLOCK: Jessica Fay, Christina Anderson and Jillian Call. Three voters who helped put Hillary Clinton over the top.

NPR reporter Tovia Smith found a woman swayed by Hillary's "famous Oprah-esque moment," and then followed up with Obama's scowlers:

TOVIA SMITH: Peggy Kelly is one of the nearly 20 percent of voters who woke up on primary day undecided. She had never really considered Clinton.

Ms. KELLY: I never was a fan of hers, really.

SMITH: But Kelly, a waitress in Manchester, says she started thinking about it after she saw Clinton's now famous Oprah-esque moment when the candidate seemed to let her guard down at a local diner and reveal a more vulnerable side.

Senator HILLARY CLINTON (Democrat, presidential candidate): This is very personal for me. It's not just political. It's not just public. I see what's happening.

Ms. KELLY: She just seemed to come across -- softer. I always thought of her as very -- I don't know, not that lovable. [Laughs] Stern-like, you know, but you'd like to know that there's a gentle side to her, too.

SMITH: For Kelly, the moment was as pivotal as it was poignant. She says she actually started to feel sorry for Clinton.

Ms. KELLY: I did feel bad for her, to be honest with you. Because being a woman, it's kind of hard, because you're going to get --you're always going to have these guys who are not going to vote for a woman no matter how good she is.

SMITH: So Kelly figured she would. And so, apparently, did many other women.

CELINDA LAKE: Well, women always make up their minds later than men. What was unique here was that they were back and forth, and so many of them describe themselves as making last-minute snap decisions.

SMITH: Democratic pollster Celinda Lake attributes most of yesterday's shift to women. In Iowa, Obama won among women narrowly. In New Hampshire, as late as Sunday night, he was leading among women by four points. But the teary moment came after the last tracking poll. By the time votes were counted Tuesday night, Clinton was ahead with women by 12 points. In part, it was her well-tuned get out the vote machine. But, Lake says, it was also her retuned, softer, gentler pitch.

LAKE: I think what happened in New Hampshire is that Hillary Clinton became very comfortable with both a tough side and the soft side. She found comfort with the gender aspect of her campaign. And I think that appealed very much to women voters.

SMITH: Some voters here in the very white and Yankee state of New Hampshire think there may be a racial element at work as well. Karen Danchick(ph) voted for Obama, but she suspects many others who claim to support him didn't really.

KAREN DANCHICK: Maybe they would like to feel that they're more willing to be accepting of all people than they really are. When it comes time to fill in the bubble, they're not quite as ready to be as color-blind as they might think that they are.

Dr. BETHANY ALBERTSON (Political Psychologist, University of Washington): I do think it's a problem.

SMITH: Political psychologist Bethany Albertson from the University of Washington predicted a month ago that support for Obama was being overstated. Her research found that voters' stated preferences didn't seem to match up with what she measured as their unconscious feelings.

DR. ALBERTSON: Even people who said that they supported Obama showed that they had an unconscious preference for Clinton or a bias against Obama.

SMITH: There has been a lot of academic debate about the role of race in political polling. But Albertson says in a presidential contest, in particular, race may still be one of the many dynamics that conspired to foil the pollsters trying to track yesterday's vote.

Precisely how reliable Dr. Albertson's study results were is a question mark. Here's one report on the findings, which seem odd:

In the research, when people were asked whom they planned to vote for, Obama had a 42 percent to 34 percent margin over Clinton with Edwards in third place with 12 percent. But, when the same people took an Implicit Association Test that measures their unconscious or automatic preferences, Clinton won with 48 percent of the voters, Edwards was second with 27 percent and Obama fell to third with 25 percent.

However, the research was not randomly conducted, the 926 people age 18 and over who took the online experimental test between Oct. 16 and Nov. 5, were self-selected volunteers.

Tim Graham
Tim Graham
Tim Graham is Executive Editor of NewsBusters and is the Media Research Center’s Director of Media Analysis