Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton were both “unlikeable,” but that only mattered for one candidate.

Here is a small sampling of the headlines that appeared over the course of the presidential match-up between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton:

2016: The year of the unlikable candidate?

Americans’ Distaste For Both Trump And Clinton Is Record-Breaking

Poll: Clinton, Trump most unfavorable candidates ever

In an ABC News/Washington Post tracking poll release just over a week before Election Day, six in 10 likely voters had an unfavorable view of both Clinton and Trump. This made them the two most unpopular presidential candidates in an ABC/Post poll since 1984.

With both candidates facing record unfavorability numbers, this election offered a chance to evaluate what we thought we knew about the role of likeability in American politics. After all, research shows that voters overwhelmingly say it is important that they like an officeholder they support. What does that mean in a race where both candidates are disliked?

The answer lies in what Barbara Lee Family Foundation (BLFF) research has shown time and again: Men don’t need to be liked to be elected, but voters are less likely to vote for a woman candidate they do not like.

In CNN exit polls, 18% of respondents had a negative view of both Clinton and Trump. Trump won those same voters by 20 points. While it’s difficult to tell the extent to which a candidate’s gender played a role in voting decisions, these numbers point to an uneven playing field for men and women when it comes to likeability. When given a choice between two candidates they did not like, voters overwhelmingly chose the man, even when they believed the woman in the race was more qualified.

Looking at post-election polling, it is clear that likeability – despite being difficult to define – continues to be a non-negotiable quality for women running for office.


Adrienne Kimmell has dedicated her career to empowering and advocating for women. As executive director, Kimmell leads the Barbara Lee Family Foundation’s nonpartisan efforts to advance women’s political equality and increase women’s representation in the field of contemporary art. A career advocate for reproductive justice, Kimmell served as the executive director of the Florida Association of Planned Parenthood Affiliates and the Florida Alliance of Planned Parenthood Affiliates, where she led Planned Parenthood in advancing their public policy agenda through legislation, organizing, and electoral work. Before her work in Florida, Kimmell managed state policy initiatives for the Planned Parenthood Federation of America in Washington, DC, designing model laws and policies and developing legislative strategy to advance reproductive justice at the state and local level. Kimmell holds a bachelor’s degree from St. Lawrence University and a master’s degree in public policy from Tufts University.