March 30, 2016

New Research Decodes Likeability for Women Candidates and Officeholders

By Bejeana Breneville

Barbara Lee Family Foundation Releases Politics is Personal: Keys to Likeability and Electability for Women

Past Barbara Lee Family Foundation Research has shown that voters will vote for a male candidate they do not like but who they think is qualified. The same does not apply for women. In fact, voters are less likely to vote for a woman candidate they don’t like. This makes likeability a non-negotiable quality voters seek in women officeholders and candidates.

“Given the link voters make between likeability and electability, we wanted to learn more about the obstacles and opportunities for women candidates and officeholders,” said Barbara Lee, founder and president of the Barbara Lee Family Foundation.

The Barbara Lee Family Foundation today released unique qualitative and quantitative research that helps to decode the factors that help women establish their likeability. Politics is Personal: Keys to Likeability and Electability for Women provides a clear road map for women candidates to showcase their likeability while remaining true to themselves.  

The Barbara Lee Family Foundation partnered with Lake Research Partners and Chesapeake Beach Consulting, along with 76 Words, who conducted focus groups and online dial surveys with likely 2016 voters last fall.

The key findings:

  • Not all factors that help establish likeability also reinforce qualifications. Previous research showed that qualifications and likeability were linked for women- they rose and fell together. This current research reflects a shift in that relationship.
  • Making it personal works. Sharing personal elements when speaking about accomplishments, like why an issue is a particular passion or how the achievement has helped constituents, helps women candidates demonstrate likeability.
  • To show likeability, a woman being herself- and doing her job among constituents- is effective. Voters like informal photos of women candidates engaging with children and in their communities more than photos in formal settings. Voters also like women candidates and officeholders who demonstrate a sense of humor and don’t take themselves too seriously.
  • When touting accomplishments, using a mixture of solo and shared credit works best. Voters like women officeholders who share credit with their teams, in addition to taking credit as an individual leader.
  • Appearing confident is essential. In this study, voters assessed a woman officeholder’s confidence in less than 30 seconds. Confidence signals both likeability and qualifications.

The full report on Politics is Personal: Keys to Likeability and Electability for Women is available at

The Barbara Lee Family Foundation works to advance women’s equality and representation in American politics through political research, strategic partnerships, and grants and endowments. The foundation’s work is guided by its core belief that women’s voices strengthen our democracy and enrich our culture.