Traditionally, women are praised for being more cooperative and bipartisan. While voters still give women credit for these traits, they are cynical about the state of politics, unclear whether more women in office will have a measurable impact, and question any individual’s ability to change politics.
Women candidates can maximize their advantages by using the right words and displaying the right actions. Both Democratic and Republican women have an advantage over a male candidate on representing voters’ interests, having the right priorities, being honest and ethical, solving problems, working across party lines to get results, and being warm and likeable.
ELEMENTS OF STYLE
A woman’s appearance is under a microscope—or perhaps more appropriately, in the headlines—far more often than her male counterparts’. Voters draw complex conclusions about women candidates from their appearances. What may be surprising, however, are some straightforward ways candidates have minimized the scrutiny.
Winning candidates develop a look and style that is authentic and appropriate. Women’s power-dressing has evolved past feminized men’s suits to more colorful jackets over sheath dresses and pants. This change reflects the evolution of work wear in general but is particularly applicable to politics. As the saying goes, “Dress poorly and they remember the dress. Dress well and they remember the woman.”
THE CHARACTER PEDESTAL
Voters historically have accorded women candidates a “virtue advantage,” seeing them as more honest and ethical than men and the perception remains. The advantage that voters accord women on honesty can be dramatically reversed if they perceive that a woman candidate has been dishonest or acted unethically. A woman candidate who falls off her political pedestal pays a high price in the loss of voter esteem, especially among women voters who expect a woman to be different.
Women candidates’ place on the ethical pedestal is a worthwhile asset. Women can maintain that advantage by showcasing integrity, transparency, and consistency with several key strategies, linked below.
RESILIENCE FOLLOWING MISTAKES
No one can run a perfect campaign. However, women do not have much room to make mistakes. Voters remember and punish women more for mistakes, which undermine their qualifications. Women are often perceived as letting mistakes linger for too long. This is devastating to both their likeability and their qualifications.
When women do slip up, they need to work immediately with their campaigns to engage in crisis communications. One rebound strategy is clear: Respond quickly with a succinct, straight answer and then introduce third-party validators who can reinforce the candidate’s qualifications. This strategy worked for women candidates and did not work for men candidates.