While female political candidates face some hurdles when seeking executive office, they actually have several advantages over their male counterparts, according to new research out of the nonpartisan Barbara Lee Family Foundation (BLFF).
The study, “Turning Point: The Changing Landscape for Women Candidates”, conducted by BLFF in partnership with Lake Research Partners, American Viewpoint and Hughes & Company, showed how 2010 changed the environment for women seeking governorships, making being a woman more of a political positive than ever before.
“Women candidates in 2010 ran on a more level playing field than in past years,” said BLFF president Barbara Lee. “Women still faced barriers, but they also showed distinct advantages over their male competitors. Now more than ever, gender may be a strategic asset in women’s campaigns for executive office.”
According to the study, while party identification drove most voter decisions, likability was the greatest predictor of votes for women candidates, as well as gender-neutral traits such as problem-solving and priorities. In the past, traits such as toughness, which favor men, dominated the voter decision-making process, the BLFF study showed.
The study confirmed that voters now trust men and women equally on their understanding of economic issues.
“Credibility on the economy was critical for any candidate in 2010,” said Celinda Lake, president of Democratic polling firm Lake Research Partners. “Women candidates in 2010 increased their credibility on economic issues. Over time during our 12 years of research, women have become more competitive on the economy.” (Clinton responds to Saudi women fighting for rights)
One gender barrier, however, was negative campaigning.
“Critiquing an opponent’s record, priorities, or decisions without being seen as negative is an extraordinary challenge for women candidates and their campaign teams,” said Mary Hughes, president of the Democratic research firm Hughes & Company. “But it remains a critical strategy to show the contrast between candidates.”
Finally, while young women often speak about supporting their fellow women, but they don’t always do so when they actually go to the polls.
“Younger women are more likely to say they wanted to vote for women based on gender, but their actual behavior was the opposite,” said Bob Carpenter, vice president of American Viewpoint, a Republican polling firm and BLFF research partner. “In fact, baby boomer women were more supportive of women candidates all things considered than younger women for the third cycle in a row.”
In 2010, ten women ran for governor. The four Republicans won while all the Democrats lost, leaving six women governors out of 50 throughout the United States. To date there have been 34 women governors out of a total of 2,353.