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How US voters pick 2016 candidates: Money, not gender, is key

Only 19 percent of Americans say they would be more likely to vote for a woman as presidential candidate, according to a new Associated Press-GfK poll. 

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    Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton speaks during a rally Friday, Feb. 19, 2016, in Las Vegas. Ask people what economic issues will be important for the next president, and Democrats, Republicans and independents alike all put a high priority on protecting Social Security and reducing unemployment. Beyond that, though, their lists of top economic concerns for the next president are more fractured, according to a poll conducted by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research.
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Hillary Clinton could be the nation's first female president. Bernie Sanders warns of the role of super PACs in politics. While the two themes have become a big part of their primary contest, Americans view the issues very differently.

Nineteen percent of Americans say they would be more likely to vote for a presidential candidate if the person is a woman, according to a new Associated Press-GfK poll, while 64 percent say a candidate's gender has no bearing on their vote.

In a sign of Sanders' potent message on political money, the poll finds that 46 percent say they're more likely to vote for a candidate who doesn't want outside groups supporting his or her campaign. Only 13 percent are less likely to vote for a candidate like that and 38 percent says it makes no difference.

Sanders notes his opposition to super PACs at every event and rails against the influence of "millionaires and billionaires" in the political system. His robust online fundraising operation has drawn more than 4 million contributions since last spring and his average donation of $27 is so well-known among his supporters they often shout out the number when he talks about it during rallies.

The poll also showed businessman Donald Trump's staying power, as 56 percent of Republicans surveyed said a candidate's decision to refuse the support of outside groups would make them more likely to vote for that candidate. Trump has repeatedly argued that his vast wealth allows him to self-fund his campaign and not be beholden to outside interests. The poll found just 8 percent said it would make them less likely to vote for a candidate.

Clinton is more overt about her attempt to break the glass ceiling compared to her 2008 presidential campaign, when she emphasized her experience and toughness. She often tells audiences that she's not asking for their vote "simply because I'm a woman" but because she would bring the views and perspective of a woman to the White House, pointing to the deal-making bipartisan work by female senators as an example of what it might offer to the country.

"Hillary Clinton certainly doesn't expect any woman to vote for her because she's a woman. She wants people to vote for her because she's going to make a difference in their lives," said Clinton's chief strategist, Joel Benenson, during an appearance Thursday at the American Enterprise Institute.

The poll suggested that as Clinton navigates the primary against Sanders, she cannot rely heavily on her potential to become the first woman to win the White House. In the first three contests, Sanders has won an overwhelming support among young voters, including women, while Clinton has generated enthusiasm among older voters, including women from the Baby Boomer generation.

Among Democrats, the poll showed that 28 percent said they're more likely to vote for a female president, including 12 percent who said they're much more likely to do so. But about 64 percent of Democrats said it made no difference. The poll also found that women were not significantly more likely than men to say they are more likely to vote for a candidate who is a woman.

"There are other issues — qualifications, experience. That's my point of view at this point," said Maria Valdez-Fisher, 70, a poll respondent from Brownsville, Texas, who said she is volunteering for Clinton's campaign ahead of the state's March 1 primary. Citing the importance of electability, Valdez-Fisher said, "I believe she's the only one who can beat a Republican as opposed to Bernie."

For Sanders, his anti-establishment message has touched a nerve at a time when many voters are wary of special interests and the influence of Wall Street. Among Democrats, 42 percent said that refusing outside groups' support is a positive and 17 percent considered it to be a negative.

Joe Barreiro, 61, a Democrat from Joliet, Illinois, said he was leaning toward Sanders in his state's primary next month in part because the Vermont senator has shunned outside money.

"It's out of hand because the amount of the money being spent on elections is unbelievable," he said. "It's not a quid pro quo but there are obvious influences when you supply that kind of money to a candidate."

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The Associated Press-GfK poll on candidate qualities was conducted by GfK Public Affairs and Corporate Communications Feb. 11-15. It is based on online interviews of 1,033 adults who are members of GfK's nationally representative KnowledgePanel.

The original sample was drawn from respondents recruited by phone or mail survey methods. GfK provides Internet access to participants who don't already have it. With a probability basis and coverage of people who otherwise couldn't access the Internet, online surveys using KnowledgePanel are nationally representative.

Interviews were conducted in both English and Spanish.

As is done routinely in surveys, results were weighted, or adjusted, to ensure that responses accurately reflect the population's makeup by factors such as age, sex, race, education and phone use.

No more than 1 time in 20 should chance variations in the sample cause the results to vary by more than plus or minus 3.4 percentage points from the answers that would be obtained if all adults in the U.S. were polled.

There are other sources of potential error in polls, including the wording and order of questions.

The poll had a cooperation rate of 46 percent.

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