Fickle fe­male vot­ers jeop­ar­dize Clin­ton, Fio­r­ina bids

The Washington Times Weekly - - Politics - BY KELLY RIDDELL

When Demo­cratic pres­i­den­tial fron­trun­ner Hil­lary Rod­ham Clin­ton was fac­ing ques­tions in her cam­paign late in the sum­mer, her fe­male supporters aban­doned her.

She slid from 71 per­cent sup­port among women in July to 42 per­cent sup­port in Septem­ber, ac­cord­ing to ABC/Wash­ing­ton Post polling. Now that she ap­pears to have righted her cam­paign, women have come back — al­beit still at a lower per­cent­age than be­fore.

Over on the GOP side, busi­ness­woman Carly Fio­r­ina has seen the same phe­nom­e­non: She soared in polling in Au­gust, driven in part by women vot­ers, but has since lost al­most all of that sup­port as she’s tum­bled to the low sin­gle dig­its.

It begs the ques­tion: Are women ready to elect the first woman pres­i­dent?

“Women are very hard on other women — they hold each other to a much higher stan­dard,” said Phyl­lis Ch­esler, au­thor of “Woman’s In­hu­man­ity to Woman.” “There’s only been men in the White House, and now there’s a chance for a woman. Women think, ‘Why her and not me? Will she shame us? What if there’s some­thing really bad about her?’ at the first sign of a down­turn. A man can com­mit grand lar­ceny, and other men don’t think it’s in­dica­tive of them per­son­ally, whereas women think if an­other woman does some­thing crazy, then the world will look upon them sus­pi­ciously.”

Ac­cord­ing to Ms. Ch­esler’s re­search, which traces the psy­chol­ogy back to evo­lu­tion, women have been trained to com­pete with other women and not men, and they don’t look to other women as their author­ity fig­ure. They also mis­trust each other and are afraid of aban­don­ment de­spite the deep bonds they can form with one an­other.

“Women are com­fort­able with women at their own level, not women poised far above them,” Ms. Ch­esler said.

When it comes to vot­ing, women do put more em­pha­sis on gen­der when se­lect­ing a can­di­date. But it cuts both ways, ac­cord­ing to an As­so­ci­ated Press study of data from the 2006 Amer­i­can Na­tional Elec­tion Study Pi­lot Test: Some women are ea­ger to vote for a can­di­date be­cause she is fe­male, but oth­ers are also more likely to dis­miss a can­di­date for the very same rea­son.

Un­like men who run for of­fice, women have to demon­strate a so-called “elec­toral elas­tic­ity,” mean­ing they need to show they’re com­fort­able bak­ing cook­ies at home while be­ing will­ing to an­ni­hi­late a for­eign ad­ver­sary abroad, ac­cord­ing to Ni­chola Gut­gold, au­thor of “Gen­der and the Amer­i­can Pres­i­dency: Nine Pres­i­den­tial Women and the Bar­ri­ers They Faced.”

“In or­der to be suc­cess­ful, they need to con­sis­tently switch back and forth from a very warm and fem­i­nine style to a toughas-nails ad­min­is­tra­tor, and they have to con­vince au­di­ence mem­bers that both styles are sin­cere,” said Ms. Gut­gold, a pro­fes­sor of com­mu­ni­ca­tion at Penn State. “Men don’t have to do that be­cause when we think of the archetype of power in the U.S., we think of a male.”

Women can be es­pe­cially hard on women can­di­dates with the life choices they made on whether to have chil­dren and then to stay at home with them or pursue a ca­reer. Al­though not a can­di­date at the time, Mrs. Clin­ton re­ceived much crit­i­cism among other women for de­fend­ing her ca­reer in the early ’90s.

“I sup­pose I could have stayed home and baked cook­ies and had teas, but what I de­cided to do was ful­fill my pro­fes­sion, which I en­tered be­fore my hus­band was in pub­lic life,” she said.

Yet by the same to­ken, women vot­ers also ex­pect their fe­male can­di­dates to be pre­pared to take that prover­bial 3 a.m. call and make tough choices.

While Amer­i­cans, both male and fe­male, have be­come dra­mat­i­cally more will­ing to elect a fe­male pres­i­dent over the last quar­ter-cen­tury, the tra­di­tional 1950s view of a woman’s role still creeps into the post-fem­i­nist sub­con­scious, re­searchers say.

Ac­cord­ing to a Van­der­bilt Univer­sity sur­vey re­leased this month, which polled 407 men and women in Florida, the av­er­age per­son found it eas­ier to pair words like “pres­i­dent” and “ex­ec­u­tive” with male names and pic­tures, and words like “as­sis­tant” and “aide” with fe­male names.

“The more dif­fi­culty a per­son had in clas­si­fy­ing a woman as a leader, the less likely the per­son was to vote for a woman,” wrote Ce­cilia Hyun­jung Mo, as­sis­tant pro­fes­sor and au­thor of the study. “Even when I con­sider only those who ex­plic­itly say that they would sup­port a fe­male can­di­date, I found that if they have dif­fi­culty as­so­ci­at­ing women with lead­er­ship at­tributes, they are less likely to vote for a woman in a no­tice­able way.”

The study didn’t break the re­sults down by gen­der.

Per­haps be­cause of this bias, women who run for of­fice tend to have stel­lar re­sumes, com­plete with ad­vanced de­grees from the best col­leges and uni­ver­si­ties, have climbed to the high­est rung in their re­spec­tive ca­reers and have re­ceived ac­co­lades, said Ms. Gut­gold. Their qual­i­fi­ca­tions as a leader and as an ex­pe­ri­enced ex­ec­u­tive can­not be ques­tioned, she said.

But even then, women vot­ers don’t au­to­mat­i­cally fol­low.

In the 2008 Demo­cratic pres­i­den­tial pri­mary, de­spite be­ing the more es­tab­lished and po­lit­i­cally ac­com­plished can­di­date, Mrs. Clin­ton lost to then-Sen. Barack Obama, and barely won 50 per­cent of women vot­ers. She also saw some high-pro­file fe­male col­leagues in the Se­nate, where she’d served since 2001, en­dorse Mr. Obama.

Mrs. Fio­r­ina and Mrs. Clin­ton ap­proach their gen­der and the cam­paign dif­fer­ently. The Demo­crat leaves no doubt she’s run­ning in part to make history, with an ex­plicit ap­peal to women to help her get there.

Mrs. Fio­r­ina, mean­while, ar­gues her sex is mostly in­ci­den­tal — though she says it makes her the best foil for the GOP to use against Mrs. Clin­ton.

Ac­cord­ing to a YouGov poll taken in March, nine in 10 Democrats are root­ing for a fe­male pres­i­dent to be elected in their life­times, whereas only a third of Repub­li­cans feel that way. In ad­di­tion, Repub­li­can women have a par­tic­u­larly dif­fi­cult time achiev­ing gen­der par­ity in their rep­re­sen­ta­tion at the pri­mary stage, ac­cord­ing to a study of Congress by Po­lit­i­cal Par­ity re­leased in Jan­uary. Fe­male Repub­li­can can­di­dates have a harder time rais­ing money, the study showed, not­ing there’s no Repub­li­can coun­ter­part to the Demo­crat’s Emily’s List to re­cruit and sup­port po­ten­tial women can­di­dates.

Still, no mat­ter what their po­lit­i­cal af­fil­i­a­tion, both Mrs. Clin­ton and Mrs. Fio­r­ina have faced some of the same hur­dles as fe­male can­di­dates.

This month the con­ser­va­tive on­line web­site the Drudge Re­port ran a ban­ner with a pic­ture of Mrs. Clin­ton en­ti­tled: “Wigged Out: Hil­lary Gives up Hair Bat­tle.” Mrs. Fio­r­ina has been called out for her “de­mented” face by the ladies of ABC’s “The View,” and dur­ing a press con­fer­ence was con­fronted by a re­porter for wear­ing pink nail pol­ish.

A 2010 study showed that any con­ver­sa­tion of a woman can­di­date’s ap­pear­ance, whether it be pos­i­tive, neg­a­tive or neu­tral, had a detri­men­tal ef­fect on vot­ers’ per­cep­tions that they were in touch, lik­able, con­fi­dent, ef­fec­tive and qual­i­fied. The same wasn’t true for males: Even if at­ten­tion was fo­cused on their looks, they didn’t pay any price for it in voter eval­u­a­tion or choice.

“Women can­di­dates do have higher bar­ri­ers, more bar­ri­ers, and vot­ers do judge them dif­fer­ently and some­times less fairly,” said Adri­enne Kim­mell, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Bar­bara Lee Fam­ily Foun­da­tion. “Women are judged on their lik­a­bil­ity, very much so on their ap­pear­ance, and those things are dis­cussed and have al­ready been dis­cussed on the 2016 cam­paign trail.”

Ed­i­tor's note: Po­lit­i­cal re­porter Kelly Riddell’s hus­band, Frank Sadler, is the cam­paign man­ager for Repub­li­can pres­i­den­tial con­tender Carly Fio­r­ina.

“Women are very hard on other women — they hold each other to a much higher stan­dard.”

— Phyl­lis Ch­esler, au­thor of “Woman’s In­hu­man­ity to Woman”

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