Pitch Perfect: Winning Strategies for Women Candidates (2012)

We’ve all heard it: this perception that “I would vote for a ‘qualified’ woman,” especially when a woman runs for major statewide office. The Barbara Lee Family Foundation’s latest research helps to decode the idea of a qualified woman candidate. It reveals what makes a woman “qualified” in voters’ minds, and how one establishes qualifications and likeability at the same time. On behalf of the Barbara Lee Family Foundation, Lake Research Partners conducted focus groups among likely 2012 voters, followed by a phone survey, and an online dial survey.

This non-partisan research provides a clear road map for women who are running for major statewide office: how to introduce themselves to voters to demonstrate their qualifications; what language contributes to voters believing they are qualified; and how to present themselves in a way that conveys they are qualified.


While there is no silver-bullet solution—one quality or characteristic that makes voters think that a woman candidate is qualified—there are some strategies that women can employ:

  1. Use the Qualified Label: When writing a candidate’s biography, include the word “qualified” in her description. If possible, include words like assertive, knowledgeable, confident, leader, and long-term elected official, which also convey qualifications.
  2. Maintain Confident Presentation Styles: The most important factor is for women to introduce themselves in a confident manner and to maintain that confidence. The use of media consultants for presentation should begin before the announcement. Women should avoid making early mistakes, and they should prepare to answer tough questions.
  3. Incorporate Action-Oriented Phrases: Voters respond well to phrases like “refused to back down” and “stood up in the debate.” Voters’ perceptions of a woman candidate being qualified are bolstered when she appears pro-active.
  4. Tap Into Third-Party Validation: Voters respond well to phrases like “the business community praised her for her experience” and “she has been endorsed by business and labor leaders.” Third-party validators who attest to a woman candidate’s qualifications help her. If a woman makes a mistake, while she employs crisis communications, she should make sure a third-party validator reaffirms her qualifications.

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