Many of our earliest findings have shifted over the decade.
Women candidates are no longer perceived as making a feminist point. Those interviewed do not believe voters see women candidates as novel or distinct. The most often recognized advantage of being a woman candidate was in debates when there are multiple male candidates and only one female candidate on the stage or at the podium.
Women candidates are no longer seen as agents of change. We first noticed this shift several cycles ago, but campaign teams now see their candidates as almost gender neutral, planning and developing strategies quite apart from gender. Any “virtue advantage” tied to being an outsider and not part of the problem has also disappeared.
As more women Governors are elected and re-elected, the issue of executive leadership and whether women can embody a leadership style appropriate to the office have disappeared. Questions do persist about leadership style: “consensus-driven versus decisive” still comes up for some candidates. Interestingly, when asked a follow-up question as to whether this quality is related to gender, the answer is often “not really about gender, but personality.”
There is still a strong and persistent notion that women are less well-qualified or prepared to manage money, particularly in a financial crisis. This notion may also contribute to the overall confidence challenge for candidates.
Older women are more loyal voters for women candidates than younger women voters – a trend that has held for the past few election cycles, but a complete turnaround from the 2000 election cycle.
While some campaign staff presume that women voters will ultimately choose a woman candidate, campaigns and candidates are beginning to see younger women voters as ideological voters first.