“Women candidates are running with this huge bias deficit, which is that people think they can’t win,” says Lauren Leader, All In Together’s co-founder and CEO. “Many voters are too afraid to take the chance in an election they view as having enormously high stakes.” Yet All In Together’s research also shows how doubts about the viability of a female candidate become something of a self-fulfilling prophecy.
When people are asked how they would vote, a generic Democratic candidate beats Trump, 53 percent to 35 percent. When they are asked who they believe will likely win the election, the Democratic lead narrows but does not vanish: 53 percent say they believe a Democrat will win vs. 47 percent giving the edge to Trump. But when people are queried on what they believe will happen if the Democratic nominee is female, voters are more likely to believe Trump will win. “There is this continuing sense of if Hillary couldn’t win, who can?” Leader says. “It’s the Clinton hangover.”
Other polls have turned up similar results. Earlier this summer, Ipsos and the Daily Beast discovered that Democrats and independents said they would be comfortable voting for a female president, but that they believed their neighbors would experience a harder time accepting a woman in the Oval Office.
The result? There are constant questions about female candidates’ electability — by voters and by the media — despite the fact that Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Kamala D. Harris (D-Calif.) have emerged victorious in every election they ever took part in, something neither former vice president Joe Biden nor Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) can claim. Yet double standards are hard to combat. Why do so many voters continue to insist that Trump’s insulting nickname for Warren — you know the one I mean — will all but disqualify her with the public, while Biden’s many gaffes won’t? It’s hard to imagine a female candidate who could get away with getting the date of the Parkland high school massacre wrong, or confusing British prime ministers Theresa May and Margaret Thatcher. It’s a vicious circle that leaves female candidates campaigning with one hand tied behind their back.
Compounding the issue, in Leader’s view, is that for all the attention paid to women’s political engagement in the past several years, their involvement still, in many ways, lags that of men. Yes, women are more likely to vote, and they are more likely to engage with politics on social media. But 29 percent of men say they are likely to volunteer their time to a candidate for political office vs. 27 percent of women. Men are also more likely to say they will make a donation to a candidate. This is a long-standing problem. According to Open Secrets, in the 2017-2018 election cycle, men were significantly more likely than women to give more than $200, and twice as likely to give more than $2,700. “Directly engaging is a much more powerful and impactful way to engage in the political process than Facebook,” Leader cautions.
So the takeaway: Keep marching, keep protesting, keep calling your elected representatives’ offices, and for goodness’ sake, ladies, open your wallets! Even more importantly, it’s helpful for women — and those who would support female candidates for office — to remember a self-help aphorism: If you don’t believe in yourself, no one else will. The only way to ultimately prove that we can elect a female president is to support, vote for and ultimately elect a female president.