Woman candidates still face considerable barriers when running for political office, concludes research presented by the White House Project and American University’s Insititute for Women’s Policy Research at a press conference in Washington today. A bi-partisan study measuring voters’ responses to attempts by women candidates to communicate “toughness and effectiveness” found that women are judged more harshly by both men and women voters, particularly older women voters, according to pollster Celinda Lake. The strongest supporters of woman candidates are unmarried women under 55 – a group with record low turnout for the November 5 elections.
Woman candidates need to provide a proven record and show toughness on issues such as crime. Michigan’s Governor-elect Jennifer Granholm repeatedly had to prove her effectiveness even after presenting voters with a 79-page plan, considerably more detailed than her opponent’s five-page version, said Jill Alper, who worked on Granholm’s campaign. Meanwhile, woman candidates are disproportionately viewed in terms of their looks. Marie Wilson, president of the White House Project, noted that while she liked the woman candidates that were more informal and focused on the kitchen table type issues, that wasn’t the trend in the voter groups surveyed.
“We talked about a glass ceiling for women in politics, this election showed a steel trap door,” said Karen O’Connell, of the Institute for Women’s Policy Research. While some felt that the results of the 2002-midterm elections represented a setback for women candidates, others felt that things actually looked better for women in 2002 in light of an especially tough election climate. Twenty-seven percent of the new governors elected in the November 5 election were women. A total of 124 women ran for seats in the US House of Representatives, just over the previous record for women candidates – 120 in 1996. A total of 59 women won House races, making the number of women to serve in the next Congress the same. The story was the same in the US Senate, with the total number of women serving remaining unchanged at 13.