Women candidates for major statewide office must come across as confident, qualified, and competent in their initial presentation. Voters immediately hone in on perceived weaknesses and punish women for on-the-job learning. Women often start their campaigns with their personal stories and biographies, which makes them appear likeable and in touch—both important traits—but often does not do much to establish their qualifications and credibility.
So what’s the secret? The best way for a woman candidate to establish her qualifications is to weave her experience and professional accomplishments into her narrative. It is important for women to lead with their issue expertise and accomplishments before sharing their personal stories.
BEST FOOT FORWARD
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.
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.
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, and 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.
Despite sweeping societal changes to family structures, traditional gender roles remain powerful, influencing what voters perceive to be acceptable and appropriate behavior for men and women. As more women run for office and are elected, voters question how women can serve constituents and take care of family responsibilities at the same time.
So how do women candidates reconcile these facts with the reality of their own lives? Women have the opportunity to be 360-degree candidates, using all of their expertise, background, and personal experiences to connect with voters. Managing a family— whether that includes a partner, children, parents, siblings, or any combination thereof—is certainly a facet of that full-life experience.
For more: see our Family Matters Research
Although women now often regularly raise and spend money in their campaigns on par with their male opponents, women candidates still report being excluded from financial circles that include the wealthiest and best-connected donors.
Well before a decision to run, women should be meeting with key allies and honing their campaign skills. This will enable them to hit the ground running, which we know is critical for women’s success with voters.