Shared Hurdles: How Political Races Change When Two Women Compete (2022)

With more and more women running for office, races between women candidates will become the norm — not a novelty. Shared Hurdles reveals how candidates’ race, political party, and gender interact to influence voter opinion when more than one woman is on the ballot.

Research on gender dynamics in politics has seldom studied races between two women candidates. This research helps to fill that gap — and give women the tools they need to resonate with voters in races against other women. Shared Hurdles shows that in an election between two women candidates, gender biases are still prevalent, and voters hold both women to a higher standard than they hold male candidates. Shared Hurdles is a timely update on how gender shapes politics, and it provides a framework for women candidates who are campaigning against other women.

Key Findings:

  1. Voters no longer see women as a novelty on the campaign trail. In 2017, BLFF research found that voters saw women as outsider candidates. Five years later, voters no longer see it as notable for a woman from either party to run for office. However, voters reported that they have not seen many campaigns with women running against other women.
  2. There are significant racial, gender, and partisan differences when it comes to beliefs about the importance of electing women and people of color. This aligns with previous Barbara Lee Family Foundation research. The base of support for women candidates and people of color candidates are Democrats; younger voters; and Asian American/Pacific Islander (AAPI), Latino, Black, and Indigenous voters.
  3. Voters broadly say they do not believe that gender impacts a candidate’s ability to govern, but about half of voters think women are different from men when they serve as elected officials. AAPI voters, Black women, Indigenous women, and Gen Z are the most likely to say that women are a lot different than men when they serve as elected officials. As we found in previous BLFF research, believing men and women lead differently is an important predictor of voting for a woman candidate.
  4. Voters demand to know why a woman candidate is qualified for office, and she must balance qualifications with likeability. Previous BLFF research found that voters assume men are qualified, but women must prove their qualifications—and voters often see a woman as qualified or likeable, but not both. Shared Hurdles shows that although voters view women candidates across race and party affiliation favorably, the qualifications barrier is not eliminated when women run against each other. Instead, both women have to show they are qualified and contend with the likeability-qualifications double bind.
  5. Knowledge of issues and experience are more important than a candidate’s personal story. Voters primarily want to see that a woman candidate has knowledge of the issues and that she is qualified. In a shift from BLFF’s 2017 research, candidates’ personal lives appear to be less important. Voters see a woman’s record as more important than her personal story, which is partially a response to the numerous challenges our country is facing at this time.
  6. Messages resonate most when they center on the voter’s life. A woman candidate’s credentials, experiences, and endorsements from third parties are most meaningful when it is clear how they relate to voters. Voters want to see how a woman candidate’s experiences prove that she can make a positive impact for them personally.
  7. In woman vs. woman races, party makes a difference. Partisanship influences decisions. Whether a woman candidate is a Democrat or Republican makes a significant difference in voters’ attitudes toward her when she runs against another woman. Democratic and Republican women candidates each have advantages on different issues and on their personal traits in the eyes of voters. There is also an interaction of gender and party, as women are rated somewhat differently than men even within the same party.

Read the full memo here


“Women have made remarkable progress at winning races for political office at every level, since I started on my mission to elect women more than 23 years ago. It’s exciting that it is now the norm for women to run against each other, whether it’s for city council or the U.S. presidency,”

-President and Founder, Barbara Lee