Clippings: Envisioning a Successful Female Presidential Candidate

Kate Zernicki makes some predictions about who, after Senator Clinton, will be the next serious female contender for the Presidency:

That woman will come from the South, or west of the Mississippi. She will be a Democrat who has won in a red state, or a Republican who has emerged from the private sector to run for governor. She will have executive experience, and have served in a job like attorney general, where she will have proven herself to be “a fighter” (a caring one, of course).

She will be young enough to qualify as postfeminist (in the way Senator Barak Obama has come off as postracial), unencumbered by the battles of the past. She will be married with children, but not young children. She will be emphasizing her experience, and wearing, yes, pantsuits.

Zernicki is fairly optomistic about our chances of finding such a candidate:

Certainly, the numbers make it possible. Women make up a quarter of state legislatures and statewide elective executive offices, and 16 percent of the House of Representatives. Eight governors and a record 16 senators are women.

And polls suggest that the country is ready to elect a woman — if not as ready as many people might expect. In December, a Gallup poll found that 86 percent of Americans said they would vote for a well-qualified candidate who was a woman (of course, that percentage has been in the 80s for much of the last three decades). Ninety-three percent said the same of a well-qualified candidate who was black; 93 percent of a Catholic candidate; and 91 percent of a Jewish one.

Others paint a less rosy picture:

“Who would dare to run?” said Karen O’Connor, the director of the Women and Politics Institute at American University. “The media is set up against you, and if you have the money problem to begin with, why would anyone put their families through this, why would anyone put themselves through this?”

For this reason, she said, she doesn’t expect a serious contender anytime soon. “I think it’s going to be generations.”

I don't think either of these viewpoints considers the rapidly changing demographics of the voters. If a democrat is elected president in 5 months, I suspect immigration reform will change electoral math in the west, if not the entire country, especially for racial minorities and women. Senator Clinton has been able to attract significant support from Latino voters, but that's not in keeping with traditional voting models.

Whatever you think about Senator Clinton's successes and failures, their impact on those who seek to follow in her footsteps, and the chances of any other woman getting this close to the presidency - check out the article's accompanying graphic. The author thinks there's fertile breeding ground in state legislatures; I think there's a lot of men.





Jessie, can you fix the last link? It's broken, and I was curious to see which image you meant. Thanks for posting this piece!


The link should take you to the graphic that goes with the article. Hope this works - but if not you can access the image straight from the article as well (map on the left hand side of the screen).


Wow, yeah—that NYT map looks colorful with the range of shades from light gray to very, very dark red—and so I instantly thought, ooh, the wide color range means there are some states there with <i>lots</i> of female legislators. But then I read the key… and found out that the darkest colored states topped out at about 30% female legislators. Not so impressive.


So the Brookings Institute took a look at the numbers and surveyed 3,700 lawyers, business leaders, and prominent civil servants and concluded that women lack the necessary ambition to pursue elected office. I don't have to explain why this conclusion is subject to some pretty obvious critiques, because Ann Friedman and echidne already have.
I'll just say this: my dream job from the age 5 to 20 was to be an elected official. But the scrutiny of my personal life (as opposed to my political views) is very intimidating. These days I still hope to work in public policy, but maybe not politics. I don't know if I would feel differently if I were a man, but I can say with confidence that this change in outlook has nothing to do with diminished ambitions.


Jessie,  This is not meant at all to say that you aren't ambitious… but, isn't what you're saying kind of the point of the study?  Running for elected office is really hard and winning election has a lot to do with things other than one's competence for the office for which they are running.  I think maybe that's the point.  Being elected may not, for many women, be worth the personal sacrifice that it entails.
Isn't part of being ambitious being willing to work hard for something and really wanting it.  I haven't read the study yet but I would definately agree with you that just because a woman doesn't run for office doesn't mean that she isn't ambitious or that she wouldn't be very good at the office.  It likely just means that she has directed her ambitions elsewhere. 
Personally, I have always intended to run for office.  When I was little, I was going to be the President of the United States, now I intend to be a US Congresswoman.  However, I have decided to delay running for office until I have made a successful legal career and have raised my kids.  This likely means that I won't run for office until I am 50 or so.  By then, things may change—maybe I'll run for President, maybe I'll run for mayor, but likely I'll run for a position at some level of legislating.  Between now and age 50+/- I intend to take baby steps towards my political aspirations (such baby steps have been part of a plan that I started putting into place when I was 17)  all the while having to be very cognizant of the potential ramifications of my personal choices on my elect-ability down the road. 
  There is a lot of talk about Senator Obama and how it seems that he has been "groomed" for this presidential race from long ago.  Maybe women are less likely to go through such grooming or lack the stamina to take on the 30+ year plan that I have laid out for myself.  If true, maybe women are less politically ambitious.


I think you're right that the problem with the study is semantics.  For instance, the researchers found that women were more concerned than men with the time demands of a political career and the impact it would have on their family. The problem is that instead of then concluding that women need more help at home, or women need more time at home, the researchers said women need more ambition. The leap from concern about work-life balance to lack of ambition would be less troubling if there weren't a decades long history of justifying everything from the gender pay gap to the lack of women executives as the result of inadequate ambition rather than discrimination or instituional bias.
As for a willingness to stick to a 30 year plan: the NY Times article suggests that the successful femalepresidential candidate cannot be as old as Hillary Clinton. This assumption does not apply to your generation, Peg. The argument being that the first woman president cannot be a probuct of the women's liberation movement, or any feminist movement for that matter.
I'm not sure what I think about that assumption - but I think that the Times is correct that part of Obama's ability to distance himself from folks like Reverand Wright is due to his age.

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