Category Archives: Shatter The Glass Ceiling

Voting For Mom: How Parenthood Affects Political Candidacy

As a graduate student at Rutgers University’s Women & Politics program, I conducted a lot of research on how being a parent (or being childless) works differently for male and female candidates. When I see I did “a lot of research,” I mean I wrote my entire dissertation on the subject and also published several academic articles and conference papers (links below). Here are some core insights from this research:

* Parental status matters in politics, though its effect on the candidacies of men and women is different. While for men, having children is most often an asset or additional credential, for women, motherhood most often functions as a liability.

* Compared to men, having children dampens women’s political ambition, as they are much more likely than men to weigh family considerations in their decision to run for office. Read my conference paper on political ambition and parental status here.

* Men are much more likely than women to use their children in their self-presentation–on the campaign trail, on their websites, and in advertisements. I wrote an article about it with my colleague and friend, Dr. Mona S. Kleinberg, that you can read here.

* Voters are most likely to penalize childless women compared to childless men as well as mothers and fathers. Childless women may be stereotyped as selfish, overly ambitious, and ill-equipped to deal with political issues that affect families and children. Voters also feel uncomfortable with mothers of young children running for office, thought their antipathy is not as strong as it is toward childless women. Read my article detailing the findings of this study here.

Hillary Clinton Supporters Are Not Stupid For Caring About Gender

Originally published in The Huffington Post, 2/19/16. See it here.

Much has been made of the difference in support for Hillary Clinton among younger and older women. In the New Hampshire primary contest Clinton lost women overall, but a look at the breakdown by age is striking—a majority of women 45 and older backed Clinton, while more than 8 in 10 women under 30 supported Sanders. In response to Clinton’s poor showing among Millennial women, some prominent feminist leaders have suggested that younger women ought to recognize the gender barriers that Clinton has had to knock down on her way to where she is today, and that her struggle as a woman vying for power should be something we all recognize and respect. The media trounced on these comments and the backlash that followed—Maureen Dowd of the New York Times declared that Hillary Clinton has “killed” feminism, while other outlets quoted scores of young women who felt insulted by the suggestion that they should vote for Clinton solely because of her gender, because she has somehow “earned” this place in history or because she is “owed” their support. So many have been quick to extinguish any suggestion that women might be voting for Hillary because she is a woman—an idea derided as insulting to women’s intelligence.

But what the coverage of this issue fails to acknowledge is that for many voters, gender is an asset to Hillary Clinton’s candidacy—it may not the only reason they are voting for her, but it matters, because gender is still very relevant. The problem comes when Hillary Clinton’s candidacy is reduced to her gender, though even this idea is largely a falsehood perpetuated by a media narrative that pits women against women, rather than anything Hillary Clinton herself has said or done.

The truth is there are many reasons to vote for Hillary Clinton, and gender is one of them. Beyond the the historical marker of equality that her election to the U.S. presidency would signify, empirical research has demonstrated that on average, women leaders behave differently than men: they are more likely to build consensus, compromise, and collaborate—leadership qualities that would represent a welcome change to a Washington paralyzed by gridlock.

Women political leaders are also more likely to get things done and are 31 percent more effective than men at advancing legislation. In 2013, when the government was on the verge of shutting down, women Senators of both parties came together to work out a compromise that both Parties could get behind. In fact, the 20 women Senators who brokered the deal were widely credited for saving the government from shutdown—even John McCain (R-AZ) lauded them: “I am very proud that these women are stepping forward. Imagine what they could do if there were 50 of them.”

Indeed, imagine if the leader of the free world were one of them.

Women also tend to have different policy priorities and place a greater emphasis on issues that help families, women, and children, like paid family leave and raising the minimum wage. The differences in women’s leadership styles and policy priorities, however, are not simply due to the fact they have vaginas, but because of different lived experiences that they bring to their jobs. While we have come far as a country in providing the same opportunities to women and men, women still live their lives and experience the world differently than men do: women are still more likely to be the primary caregivers to children and elderly family members, have different health needs and concerns, and make up the vast majority of rape survivors. These are just a few of the many real differences in the realities of women and men’s lives, and different experiences means different priorities, needs, and perspectives.

As North Dakota Democratic Senator Heidi Heitkamp once said of collaborating with female colleagues:

It is about getting people in a room with different life experiences who will look at things a little differently because they’re moms, because they’re daughters who’ve been taking care of senior moms, because they have a different life experience than a lot of senior guys in the room.

This is not to say that a man cannot advocate for policies that help women and families, but that they may not have the same understanding of these issues that women do.

The difference women make in office is a valid reason to give for supporting a candidate, and citing it does not mean it is the only reason nor the most important reason to support a candidate (though as I have written elsewhere, I believe it is perfectly OK if it is). But the narrative has been constructed in such a way that considering gender in political evaluations of candidates at all is deemed lazy or unintelligent, when in fact, there are compelling reasons why gender can and should matter in political decisions.

Clinton supporters would do well to message about gender in this way—that it is not the only reason to support Clinton and other women leaders, but it matters, and this is why. This is a much different conversation than talking about how Clinton is entitled to or owed support from women by virtue of being a woman herself, and it also allows for men to acknowledge how Clinton’s gender might positively factor into their support for her.

So the difference in support for Clinton among younger and older women does not represent a “schism” or divide among women as the media suggests; in fact, these differences have more to do with age differences than they do gender. But the conversation has illuminated that we need to find better ways to talk about gender’s relevancy in the public sphere.

The Media’s Coverage of Hillary Clinton Is Downright Irresponsible

Original article published by The Huffington Post on September 1, 2015. See it here.
HRC Wiki Commons
Casual observers of recent media coverage would reasonably conclude that the Hillary Clinton campaign is in serious trouble. Headlines across news sources allege her falling poll numbers and once secure spot of the frontrunner for the Democratic nomination. But a closer inspection of the most recent poll by Quinnipiac University that has spawned the headlines “Hillary slips, Trump rises in national poll” and “Hillary Clinton Hits Lows on Favorability, Trustworthiness in new poll,” among hundreds of others, reveals a very different story–Hillary Clinton’s position is strong and her opponents are the ones who are in trouble.

Here is what the poll really shows about Clinton:

1. She wins the Democratic nomination handily: Clinton beats Sanders by a whopping 23 points (45 percent vs. 22 percent) and Biden by 27 points. For all the talk of Sanders’ surge and Biden’s popularity, Democratic voters overwhelmingly favor Clinton as their nominee.

2. She beats the Republicans: Clinton tops Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio, and Donald Trump in head-to-head match-ups. Curiously, this result didn’t even make it into Quinnipiac’s press release narrative.

3. She wins demographic groups that are key to success in 2016: Journalists have made much of Biden’s lead among Republican contenders, but a closer look at the data reveals that among key demographic groups that historically have decided elections, Clinton does better. This is especially true compared to Sanders, whose limited appeal to college-educated white men has been well-documented. For example, against Bush, Clinton claims 92 percent of the vote among African Americans, and 55 percent among Latinos. Biden only gets 84 percent of the African American vote, Sanders gets 79 percent. Less than half (49 percent) of Latinos prefer Sanders over Bush, a margin that would seriously hurt the Democrats’ chance of winning the White House. Clinton also outperforms among younger voters compared to Biden and Sanders.

4. Everyone’s favorability ratings are suffering: Clinton isn’t the only one with net negative favorability scores–voters also have negative impressions of both Bush and Trump. Clinton is also more liked among members of her Party (76 percent of Democrats give her a positive rating) than Bush and Trump among Republicans (59 percent favorable).

5. She is seen as a stronger leader than both Sanders and Biden: Lost in the buzz about her trustworthiness scores is an arguably even more important score–leadership qualities. A majority of voters (57 percent) say Clinton has strong leadership qualities compared to 35 percent who say the same about Sanders and 46 percent about Biden. The Clinton campaign still has time to improve Clinton’s image when it comes to perceptions of honesty, but leadership qualities and experience are different–either you have them or you don’t. Biden and Sanders aren’t going to be able to fake the impressive resume and qualifications that Clinton has. This may be why that although the media has emphasized the negative words voters associate with Clinton, words like “experience” and “strong” top the list too.

As political consultant Peter D. Rosenstein said of this poll and others: “Any candidate seeing numbers like Hillary has in those polls would be opening champagne and their opponents would be figuring out what they are doing wrong.” So why, then, does the media report otherwise?

I’m not the first to notice the media’s biased, even sometimes downright inaccurate coverage of Hillary Clinton. Journalists seem almost gleeful in their framing of Clinton’s “fall.” And I would be remiss not to mention how the idea of women like Hillary Clinton, who unabashedly seek power, make people uncomfortable, and sometimes angry.

The media’s power to set the agenda and frame issues is a powerful one, because it influences the public’s attitudes and political choices. Journalists have a choice in what they cover and how they cover it, and in this instance, many chose to focus on Clinton’s vulnerability. But as now should be clear, that’s not the whole story, and effectively this kind of journalism disservices the public. We rely on the news media for political information, and while in any process conducted by human beings, some level of bias is inevitable, the coverage of Clinton is more than just biased, it’s downright irresponsible.