Turning Point: The Changing Landscape for Women Candidates (2010)


In 2010, we learned that problem-solving, priority-setting, and strength — traits that seem more easily accessible for women candidates — forecast a candidate’s likeability and electability.

It was a year in which women faced fewer gender-related obstacles than ever before, and one in which gender-related advantages appeared in bundles rather than one by one. Women candidates stepped onto a more level playing field than in past years, as well- equipped as their male counterparts to compete and win. We heard from their managers and advisors that woman candidates have a greater opportunity to connect with voters than their
men opponents if they employ the full range of their personal, professional and community relationships and experiences.

Less encouraging was the snapshot 2010 presented of younger women voters. In a departure from our early Governors research, but continuing a recent trend, young women profess support for women candidates, but do not follow through with a vote at the ballot box.Today, Baby Boom generation women are the most reliable voting bloc for women candidates. And in addition, Independent women continue to be more likely than Independent men to vote for women candidates. Voters value honesty and ethics and they dislike the perception of negative campaigning.

While there were certainly instances of gender bias and stereotyping among the campaigns in 2010, they stood out as inappropriate and uncommon. And while women candidates enjoyed wider acceptance of their candidacies as the norm, there was also recognition that such acceptance meant an end to special status for women candidates.

We see 2010 as a turning point. Whether the election represents a true and lasting turning point for women candidates or an exception shaped by a desire for change and even stronger partisanship, remains to be seen. But it certainly was a year in which women continued to make electoral history, including a more ethnically diverse pool of candidates than we have seen before, two all-women contests for Governor, and the first women Governors elected in New Mexico, Oklahoma, and South Carolina.

In all, more progress, and new challenges.

For more information about the Barbara Lee Family Foundation’s Governors Guidebook series, please visit: www.barbaraleefoundation.org. Online, you can view, download, and request copies of our research and access a list of additional resources for women in politics.