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Relaunch: Resilience and Rebuilding for Women Candidates After an Electoral Loss (2018)

Some women candidates may be hesitant to run again because they know that the barriers for women running for office are higher than they are for men - why should the standard after a loss be any different? This research shows that voters think women who have lost their elections are still qualified and likeable (two must-haves for women candidates), and that losing an election can be a good moment for a powerful launch of a woman candidate’s next campaign. It also points to concrete steps for women candidates to help set them up for a future run.

THE KEY QUESTION FOR A WOMAN CANDIDATE WHO LOSES HER RACE: WHAT’S NEXT?

This study shows that voters are incredibly open to the idea of a woman candidate relaunching herself after a loss as a public figure and running for office again, and provides guidance about next steps.

Our Key Findings:

  • For voters, a woman’s campaign loss does not mean the end for her political career; it can be the beginning of the next chapter. 
    • Voters still rate losing women candidates favorably and believe that they are qualified to run for office again.
    • Voters reject the notion that if many women were to lose their elections, it would be ominous for the electoral chances of women candidates in the future.
  • Post-election messaging is the first step towards a successful next run.  
    • Voters respond best when a woman candidate’s message centers on voters, not herself.
    • Voters want to hear a woman candidate stay positive and hopeful.
    • Voters do not want to hear a woman candidate use excuses or place blame.
    • Voters respond well to a woman who reiterates what she believes in, what and who she will continue to fight for, and how she will do it.
  • The next steps for a woman candidate who loses her election are critical.  
    • Voters want to see a losing woman candidate who is a community-focused, issues-oriented public servant rather than someone trying to acquire money, power, or attention.
    • According to voters, successful repeat candidates will stay engaged in public life by continuing to hold a political office, conducting a listening tour, taking a role in her political party, helping other women run for office, or serving on a commission.
    • Women candidates who choose paths like the above will be better positioned to run again than those who take jobs in the private sector, academia, or the media.
Our new research confirms my long-held belief that women can rebound successfully after a defeat. It’s important for women candidates to know that voters say they will not penalize women who lose an election. – Barbara Lee

Our Key Tips: Strategies for Women Candidates

  • Recognize that losing is not the end.

    You can start launching your next campaign as soon as your concession speech or statement. Focus on listening to your community, continuing to fight for your ideals, and getting things done for the community.

  • Focus your messaging on voters, not yourself.

    Be values-oriented and grounded in the needs of your constituency.


  • Be forward thinking.

    Look to the future and don’t dwell on the past. Voters are sensitive to any perceived whining or blaming.

  • Find ways to stay engaged in the community.

    Work on an issue that was big in the campaign, build political skills, and network with other leaders.