Women are not a monolithic voting bloc. All aspects of a woman’s identity—her political party, race, ethnicity, age, socioeconomic status, and sexual orientation— inform her voting decisions. Women stand at the intersections of diverse identities, holding distinct motivations, priorities, and preferences based on both life experiences and world views. Delving deeper into these complexities provides a more complete understanding of the influence and behavior of women voters in the presidential race. Gender is one among many factors voters might consider in choosing a candidate. Most importantly, candidates on both sides of the aisle must take an issues-based approach to effectively target women voters, focusing on the policy areas that matter most to women.
Category: From the Experts
Presidential Gender Watch is a project born from a desire to ensure that the role gender plays in our elections is not overlooked. We look at the subtle (and not so subtle) ways gender influences candidate strategy, voter engagement and expectations, media coverage, and electoral outcomes in the race for the nation’s highest executive office.
“I believe it is time to have a conversation about the state of women in America, ” wrote candidate Carly Fiorina nearly two months after entering the presidential race. However, she spent little time throughout her nine-month campaign engaged in this conversation. When issues related to women’s equality or well-being arose, she decried the Democratic construct of a “war on women” or accused Hillary Clinton of “playing the gender card.” The gender conversations that Fiorina did have on the campaign trail reflect a dissonance: on the one hand, she derided “identity politics,” but, on the other, she identified herself as a woman candidate and invoked her gender identity as a distinguishing characteristic in a pack of GOP men.
The Iowa caucuses have led the presidential nominating process for over four decades. In that time, just four women candidates have competed for Iowans’ votes. Including Clinton twice (for her 2008 and 2016 bids), women are just 4.8% of all 105 candidates to have ever competed in Iowa’s caucuses. They represent three of 48 (6.25%) Democratic and two of 57 (3.5%) Republican bids for Iowa’s delegates.
The 2016 Iowa presidential caucus results point to growing debates over the importance and influence of identity politics. While Hillary Clinton benefited from at least a nine point gender gap in her success as the first women to win the Iowa caucuses, shared gender identity was far from determinative in caucus results. Similarly, the first Latino candidate to win the Iowa caucuses, Ted Cruz, has not seen much enthusiasm from Latino voters. In fact, few see him as a typical “Latino” candidate at all. So, what does it mean to be the “woman” or “Latino” candidate?
Sarah Palin’s high-profile endorsement of Donald Trump’s presidential campaign in Iowa last week continues to dominate the news cycle. Many view Palin’s motives for endorsing Trump as sheer opportunism, while some conservatives, even Palin’s own Facebook followers, feel betrayed by her decision to back Trump given his uneven (at best) record on many conservative issues. Taken at face value, however, Palin’s decision to endorse Trump may best be viewed as an utter rejection of the GOP establishment.
If you were following last night’s Democratic debate on Twitter, you may have noticed the attention to the candidates’ volume. Search Twitter for “Bernie” and “yelling” and your feed will be full. Clinton, too, was not immune from critiques of her volume and tone, but the attention to Sanders’ style was consistent throughout the night. While some find Sanders’ gruffness endearing, others feel personally attacked (“Why is Bernie yelling at me?”). But would we respond differently to Sanders’ style if Bernie were Bonnie? Even more, does our own gender influence how we react to Sanders’ “shouting?”
In Thursday night’s undercard debate, Carly Fiorina took an unexpected – and perhaps out-of-place – jab at Hillary Clinton’s marriage, telling the crowd in her opening remarks, “Unlike another woman in this race. I actually love spending time with my husband.” She reprised the attack in her closing, where she also referred to her husband Frank as “eye candy.” Arguably, Fiorina was attempting to capitalize upon the recent focus on Bill Clinton’s infidelity, albeit indirectly. However, in emphasizing her wifely credentials, Fiorina raised an electoral hurdle that presents distinct challenges for women candidates. Especially in running to be the sole leader of the nation – and thus, the de facto head of the “first household,” presidential contenders are often expected to prove they are both strong, capable leaders and ideal types of dominant, protective fathers and husbands. But what happens when that husband is a wife? As women navigate the gender expectations of executive office, how do they address the stereotypical expectations of the ideal spouse, whereby the wife is still tasked with reflecting and bolstering the power of a male partner instead of fully embracing or expressing her own, while still proving she is ready to be Commander in Chief?