Campaign Essentials

Issue (Dis)advantages: The Economy, Education, and Women’s Health

The Challenge

Voters want to know that a woman can handle budgets, taxes, and the economy. This area is generally perceived as a weakness for women candidates and not a traditional area of female expertise. Women candidates have advantages on issues that are traditionally “women’s issues”: education, healthcare, and women’s health. However, voters are split on who handles the economy better—men or women. In addition, decisiveness and effectiveness are areas where women candidates still need to prove themselves.

The Solution

A candidate profile that focuses on experience, including voting record and accomplishments on important issues, is the most effective in portraying qualifications to voters, followed by a profile that outlines a candidate’s general previous experience in office. These profiles beat out a competing profile that focused on personal biography. This is proof positive of how critical it is to tout experience first and personal story second.

Profile (female candidate) Very Qualified Total Qualified
Issues: Mary Jones is known in the state legislature for her strong voting record on issues like health care reform, education, and economic development. She has successfully passed a number of bills to help our state including getting money to improve our schools and creating thousands of jobs while imposing tough fiscal discipline. 62% 93%
Elected Office: Jan Smith served one term on city council, was mayor, and is currently in her third term in the state legislature. Currently she serves as a ranking member of the Finance committee, as well as on the Governor’s Economic Task Force to create jobs. 56% 90%
Work: Kathy Green successfully owned her own small business before climbing the ranks of a Fortune 500 company. She knows how to create jobs, meet a payroll, and manage a company budget. 39% 80%
Personal: Joan Smith grew up in a working class neighborhood, the daughter of a police officer and a teacher, where she learned the value of hard work and discipline. She graduated at the top of her class from a State University 21% 63%

Voters are adamant that a woman elected official would be more likely to protect women’s health issues, access to birth control and contraception, reproductive health issues, Social Security and Medicare, and education. Women can and should use the clear, ongoing advantage they hold on these “women’s issues” but must also maximize non-traditional experience to demonstrate their qualifications. When it comes to less traditional experience—economic development, serving on a finance committee or economic task force—highlighting accomplishments helps women candidates unlock doors to the executive office and level the playing field by establishing credibility as a leader. In a split sample, the fictional Mary Jones’ profile that includes non-traditional experience did just as well as an identical profile about a fictional man (In the chart above, “Total qualified” refers to the total percentage of voters who said this profile effectively conveyed the candidate as qualified).

Certain qualities are particularly important. Voters were likely to see a candidate as good on the economy and were likely to vote for her if they perceived her:

  • To be a problem solver
  • To be a change agent
  • As having the right priorities
  • As effective

Women also now get as much credit as men for being good on the economy when they are good on other issues. For both men and women candidates, being good on education and healthcare help them to be seen as good on the economy. Women can harness the advantage they have on these typically “women’s issues” as well as kitchen-table economics, to connect with voters.