Campaign Essentials

Best Foot Forward

The Challenge

Every podium in America is made for a six-foot man.
As one candidate said, suggesting the whole debate exercise is slightly rigged against women.

Voters decide whether a woman candidate is ready to lead, in part, based on her personal presentation. The emphasis voters place on personal style is substantial and multi-faceted. It’s important for women to have visibility early in the campaign.

Although all candidates are judged on these attributes to some degree, women have a steeper climb—they must work harder— in convincing voters to judge them on their merits.

The Solution

The Look:

In order to be successful in this reality, women must be well-suited for the job: dressing appropriately for campaign events, whether they are at new construction sites or at a senior center, is critical. In short, dress the part: don’t wear heels to a picnic. And even casual attire must be professional. For more on clothing and style, see Elements of Style.

The Sound:

Tone of voice and speaking style also factor into the candidate’s presentation. Voters are in tune to whether a woman candidate sounds authoritative or bossy, serious or boring, high-pitched and unsure, or clear and steady.

The Substance:

Voters say women convey their qualifications by:

  • Being prepared
  • Answering tough questions
  • Speaking with authority
  • Projecting confidence
  • Making and maintaining eye contact
  • Commanding respect

The way a woman runs her campaign is also important. It is an opportunity to showcase that she has her act together, is a good leader, and an effective manager.

Positive leadership styles that work for women also include being in touch, meeting with voters, and bringing men and women together or Democrats and Republicans together to get results. The latter is different than traditional messaging about reaching across the aisle. Results are key.

There need to be more women in this media consulting business, and they don’t need to be versions of men; they need to be women.

Additional Challenges

The Challenge

Voters are more accustomed to seeing women as part of a deliberative body, such as the legislature. When a woman is running to be CEO of her state, voters need more evidence to believe she is prepared to do the job than they do for a man.

Voters want to see specific financial, crisis management, and political credentials when evaluating whether a woman could handle the complexities of running a state. For instance, voters surveyed felt more confident in a candidate who had been a state treasurer when they were told that as treasurer she got the state out of debt than they were in a candidate who did not mention her accomplishments as treasurer.

In contrast, men were assumed to be qualified to lead their state if they had a resume that simply listed positions of leadership and service. Women must show, where men can tell.

In this environment, voters also claim to value a fresh perspective and disdain political insiders. In the past, women held a huge advantage on being seen as change agents. That has diminished.

Voters still, however, see women as outside the old boys’ network. They want assurance that women can lead and get the job done in the largely male game of politics. Women candidates especially need to tout their experience and track record, which can include taking on political insiders. Voters want to know women have the experience and skills to achieve change.

The Solution

Women need to provide more evidence than men of expertise. The first way to relay that to voters is to make an excellent first impression—to hit the ground running and to maintain that momentum throughout the campaign.

What, exactly, does that look like?

  • Standing up for herself in a debate
  • Standing up for voters and their interests in a debate
  • Fielding tough questions from a reporter early in the campaign
  • Starting the campaign with a listening tour

These are also ways to demonstrate that a candidate is in touch with voters’ lives.