Why the female generational divide for Hillary Clinton?

Story highlights

  • Hillary Clinton trails Bernie Sanders in support from younger women, according to a recent poll
  • Older women express frustration that many younger Democratic women aren't backing Clinton

Kelly Wallace is CNN's digital correspondent and editor-at-large covering family, career and life. Read her other columns and follow her reports at CNN Parents and on Twitter.

(CNN)If you were writing a Hollywood screenplay about the race for the White House centered around an experienced woman with a real chance of becoming the first female president, you would expect that candidate to be doing better with women than her male rivals. In fact, if you wrote that she was not resonating as well with women voters, executives might pass on the script saying it wasn't believable.

And yet, that's exactly what's happening in today's presidential race when it comes to Hillary Clinton's support from younger women. Some 64% of women Democratic voters younger than 45 backed Bernie Sanders, while just 35% supported Clinton, according to a Wall Street Journal/NBC/Marist College poll in New Hampshire last week. When it comes to women 45 and older, Clinton leads Sanders by 9 percentage points, the poll found.
    Why aren't younger women more excited about Clinton? The lack of support from younger women is something that's clearly gotten under the skin of some Clinton supporters, particularly women who are of her age and stage.
    First, Gloria Steinem on "Real Time With Bill Maher" suggested that young women are only supporting Sanders because they want to meet men. "When you're young, you're thinking: 'Where are the boys? The boys are with Bernie,' " Ms. Steinem said. (She has since apologized for those comments, saying she "misspoke" and called it a "case of talk-show Interruptus.")
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    The day after Steinem's appearance with Bill Maher, former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright uttered something she has said repeatedly over the past several years about women helping women crack glass ceilings, but did it for the first time at a rally for and with Clinton in New Hampshire.
    Well, that isn't exactly going over well with younger women, who aren't backing Clinton.
    "As a young woman who supports Bernie Sanders, I'm frustrated and outraged by being constantly attacked by older feminists for my refusal to vote according to my gender," said Ariana Javidi, a sophomore studying human rights, economics and gender studies at the University of Connecticut.
    "Like my fellow young feminist women, I recognize that voting for a woman because she's a woman is sexist, just like voting for a man because he's a man is also sexist," said Javidi. "When older feminists like Albright and Steinem engage in increasingly baseless and wild explanations about why young women don't support Hillary, they display the limitations of their brand of feminism, while young women like me realize that one's gender isn't what makes them a feminist."
    Vera Ezimora, 30, says she always encourages women to help their fellow women on her lifestyle blog Verastic.com, but she also said she does not believe that help or support should be offered blindly and based only on gender.
    "I don't think that being a female and not voting for Hillary means you're a bad person. It would be bad if your sole/main reason for not voting for her is because she's a woman," said Ezimora, a Democrat turned independent who says she has "no idea" who she might support in the election.
    Gabrielle Greaves, a student at the University of New Hampshire who supports Sanders over Clinton, says her decision is based on policy, not on getting the first woman into the White House.
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    "It's not just about having a woman president. You want somebody that values all of your principles and the morals that you stand for," said Greaves during an interview with CNN's Brooke Baldwin.
    "And I think that a lot of the young voters, and especially in Iowa, we saw the majority of the young women voters voted for Bernie Sanders, is because he talks about, he gives a voice to the young voters," said Greaves, pointing to issues that Sanders advocates such as making tuition free at public colleges and universities.

    A different 'sense of urgency'

    Amanda Rodriguez, 37, said she and other younger women are more concerned about the issues and whether their political beliefs align with the candidates than possibly older women who may be more focused on seeing women gain some footing when it comes to the White House.
    That said, Rodriguez understands why older women may feel as they do.
    "Younger women aren't as used to the sexist battles that professional older women had to struggle through to acquire the positions they have now," said Rodriguez, a mom of three and founder of the blog Dude Mom. "The struggle is real; they just haven't had to live it."
    That is something you hear over and over from older women who are hungry to see a female president in their lifetimes, and who believe that younger women think they will see a female president at some point and that Hillary Clinton might just not be the one for them.
    Janis Brett Elspas is a 59-year-old mom of four who has worked full-time running her own business while raising her kids, now in college.
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    "I don't think millennial women feel that same sense of urgency for a woman president because they are young, haven't waited an eternity like my generation and their thinking is there is always the next presidential election four years after this one is over to look toward," said Elspas, founder of Mommy Blog Expert. "I also think Hillary's own age may simply have less appeal and relevancy to those female voters who are much younger than she is."
    Baby boomers see Clinton as a "pioneer who spent decades breaking new ground for women, but younger women take those achievements for granted," said Allie Nault, who was named Miss America's Outstanding Teen and who has spent the past six months encouraging young people to vote through public service announcements and interviews with all the candidates.
    "We see many women lawyers, and we've only ever known Hillary Clinton in her powerful roles as first lady, senator and secretary of state," said Nault, 18, who will be voting this year for the first time. "I think women my age are confident that a woman will soon be president and do not view it as the milestone it really is."

    'No Marissa Mayer, Sheryl Sandberg, Carly Fiorina'

    Rollene Saal, my mother-in-law and a former Wellesley grad like Clinton, said if young women today don't feel an allegiance to Clinton, it's because they are "post-feminists" and because women such as Clinton cleared the path for them today.
    "There would be no Marissa Mayer, Sheryl Sandberg, Carly Fiorina, if it were not for the work, the road that she has paved, she and Madeleine Albright and Gloria Steinem, these icons of the women's movement," said Saal. "Now these young women, how wonderful that this is no longer a burning issue."
    Lori Day, 52, says women her age have seen Hillary Clinton fighting for women's human rights and reproductive rights for decades.
    "We don't take for granted any of the progress she helped create because we know that we could lose it, and if a Republican wins the White House, we will," said Day, an educational psychologist who runs her own consulting business and author of a book on mother-daughter book clubs. "Younger women have no collective memory of this, and they do tend to take things like birth control and legal abortion for granted, simply because these things have always existed in their lifetimes."
    Diane Smith, an Emmy award-winning broadcast news journalist and co-author of the best-seller, "Obsessed: America's Food Addiction -- and My Own," wonders whether millennials and younger women think all the hard work of feminism is done.
    "If so, they need to look at how many women make it to the C-suite, and how women and men may start out at the same salary, but men quickly move ahead," said Smith who cited stats from a report by Lean In.org and McKinsey & Co, which found that at the current pace, it will take more than a century for gender quality at the highest level of companies.
    Katharine Zaleski, co-founder and president of Power to Fly, which helps women find the best remote jobs in tech, believes younger women, namely the ones in college, haven't experienced the unequal landscape for women that Clinton has worked to overcome because they haven't started work yet.
    "About five years into working, they'll see the results of not having stronger female leadership in this country: unequal pay, one of the world's worst parental leave policies and thinning numbers of women at the executive level," said Zaleski, who is soon to turn 35.
    Her message to younger women who are not supporting Clinton? "If you want to talk about a revolution, then revolt against a system that keeps 50% of its population from properly achieving its dreams."
    Cecily Kellogg, a blogger, speaker, mom of a 9-year-old and Clinton supporter, summed up the frustration felt by both younger women and older women who hold opposing views of the best Democratic presidential candidate to win the White House.
    "Just like I don't want Bernie supporters lecturing me about choosing Hillary, I don't want to lecture Bernie supporters for choosing him," said Kellogg. "Both are pretty good, choices, frankly. Whoever gets the nomination will get my support."
    Added blogger and author Avital Norman Nathman, who is still undecided between Clinton and Sanders, "It's exhausting to have all of this inner fighting when we should be working together for the greater good."
    What do you think is behind the apparent generational divide when it comes to women's support of Hillary Clinton? Share your thoughts with Kelly Wallace on Twitter @kellywallacetv or CNN Health on Twitter or Facebook.