Speaking with Authority (2001)

On September 11, everything changed. Plans. Habits. Priorities. Lifelong assumptions were opened to re-evaluation. Only today are we fully realizing the impact the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, DC, have had on our thinking.

What, then, is the effect of 9/11 on women’s candidacies for public office, we wondered? How will women fare in a political climate that is infused with anxiety about personal and national security? Will the recession add to the traditional hurdles women candidates face when dealing with the economy? How will these two mega-issues interact in voters’ calculations?

Instinctively we suspected that the post-9/11 political environment would be less hospitable to women. A great deal of research – including our own – has documented the challenge women face speaking authoritatively on: financial issues, war, military strategy and international policy. None of these issues have ever been viewed as “natural” subjects for women. We wanted to know how today’s environment would affect voters’ perceptions of women’s candidacies.

Between December 10 – 13 we conducted a national survey to explore these issues and identify the specific hurdles women face in the 2002 elections. In order to make our work immediately useful to candidates and their campaigns, we have set forth the significant findings, the policy approaches and specific “messages” that will enable women to advance clear and compelling ideas in language that conveys authority and instills voter confidence.

The notions that women policymakers are less well equipped to manage a faltering economy or resolve international conflict are based on old but persistent biases. When voters are asked about issues that concern them – whether that concern is job security, terrorism, education or social security – men favor a male candidate to do a better job of dealing with the problem by 22 points, while women give female candidates only a slight, 6-point advantage in dealing with the issue.

With this research we aim to reduce this burden on women candidates and provide the tools for addressing economic and national security issues directly, persuasively, authoritatively and – most importantly – successfully – in their campaigns.

Democratic men and independent men prefer a male by 17 and 15 points, respectively; Republican men prefer a male by 29 points; Democratic women and independent women prefer a female by 15 points; and Republican women prefer a male by 8 points.

1 In 2001, the Barbara Lee Family Foundation released “Keys to the Governor’s Office,” a comprehensive guide that examined the relationship between gender and campaigning for executive office.

2 The Barbara Lee Family Foundation commissioned Democrat Celinda Lake from Lake, Snell, Perry & Associates (LSPA), in consultation with Republican Linda DiVall from American Viewpoint, Inc., and Democrat Mary Hughes from Staton & Hughes to conduct a multi-part project on women running for governor. LSPA and American Viewpoint designed and administered a telephone survey from December 10-13, 2001. The survey included 1,000 likely voters age 18 and over. Telephone numbers for the survey were drawn from a random digit dial sample, and the sample were stratified geographically by state based on the distribution of registered likely voters in each state. The margin of sampling error for the total sample is +/- 3.1 percentage points. The margin of sampling error for subgroups is greater than the margin of error for the entire sample.