By Cynthia Richie Terrell on November 13, 2019
2018 was heralded as a “Year of the Woman,” with a record number of women elected to Congress and many historic firsts for individual women candidates. One record we didn’t break: the number of women serving as governor of their state. The number of women who are governor today ties a previous high first set in 2004 – before the iPhone came out, before Twitter was founded, and before Netflix launched its streaming service. So much has changed since 2004, so why aren’t we seeing progress with electing women governors?
For 20 years, the Barbara Lee Family Foundation has consistently found that voters have been more comfortable supporting women who are running to be part of a deliberative body, like a legislature, than women who are running for executive positions, like governor. We just released the largest research project in the history of the Barbara Lee Family Foundation to comprehensively examine what it takes for a woman to prove to voters she is ready to serve in executive office.
We know that gender isn’t the only factor that impacts voters’ views: women of color and LGBTQ women face additional barriers to executive office. We ask about hypothetical Asian American, Black, Latina, lesbian and white women candidates of the two major political parties, and conducted our research in collaboration with APIAVote and the Asian Pacific American Institute for Congressional Studies; Higher Heights Leadership Fund; the Victory Institute, and Voto Latino. Here’s what we found:
- All of the hypothetical women candidates we tested either win or tie their head-to-head ballots against a straight white man of the opposite party. And no matter the woman candidate they were asked about, a majority of voters say that candidate would represent their community well.
- But women still face barriers and double standards on the campaign trail. Although voters acknowledge that women are held to a different and higher standard when it comes to qualifications and likeability, they still participate in those double standards.
- Voters want action-oriented candidates. Across profiles tested, voters think it’s important for a woman to “handle a crisis” and “get results,” in order to be elected to executive office.
Here at Gender on the Ballot, we’ve talked a lot about electability and its coded relationship with sexism. This research shows that the idea that men are more electable than women (and women of color and lesbian candidates) is a myth. On the brink of the centennial of women’s suffrage in the United States with a record number of women running for president, it is a timely reminder that, despite pundits who might suggest otherwise, women are electable to executive office. And that is good news for everyone.
Understanding the role traditional and, increasingly, social media outlets are playing in the promotion of more gender-inclusive and participatory democracies and what we can all do to speed up progress is urgent, and critical.
This study aims at doing just that and has four key takeaways:
An artificial intelligence powered analysis of the 2020 primaries shows that female candidates are attacked more often than male candidates by trolls/fake news accounts/bots and there is anecdotal evidence the same is happening in India, Ukraine and Italy.
Despite a highly toxic social media environment, female candidates globally have been at times able to use both Twitter and Facebook to support their political ambitions, by leveraging their support networks online and offline.
Globally and on average, women are still less visible than men on traditional media and the nature of the coverage they receive is often biased or plainly sexist, representing a serious disincentive for women to consider a political career.
There are actionable steps and evidence-based solutions and innovations that can speed up progress towards gender equality in government, by ensuring that traditional and social media are fairer arenas of political engagement - and everyone has a role to play in implementing them.
The Council of European Municipalities and Regions (CEMR) released a great report on women's representation at the local, provincial and national level in 41 European nations:
From mayors to MEPs: new study reveals women’s representation across Europe.
Women make up half of humanity, yet account for only 1/3 of political decision-makers in Europe and around 15% of mayors. A new study by the Council of European Municipalities and Regions (CEMR) shows that despite some gains, politics remains a man’s world.
One-of-a-kind, “Women in Politics: Local and European Trends” provides in-depth analysis of women’s representation in 41 European countries and all levels of government, from local councils all the way up to the European Parliament.
Covering a ten-year period, the study breaks down the data by country, shows where and how women have made gains and provides recommendations on how to make further progress.
City Councilor Michelle Wu coasted to victory Tuesday, a flag-bearer for a progressive-minded political movement that commanded election night, ushering in the most diverse council in city history and the first with a majority of women.
With 100 percent of precincts reporting, Wu won 21 percent of the vote, putting her ahead of fellow incumbents Annissa Essaibi-George and Michael Flaherty, who will also return to the council.
Political newcomer Julia Mejia, a community activist who emigrated from the Dominican Republic, claimed victory in a tight race for the fourth at-large seat with Alejandra St. Guillen, an immigrants right advocate and former school teacher. St. Guillen conceded late Tuesday.
Just before midnight, however, with city tallies showing her down by only 10 votes, St. Guillen called for a citywide recount, according to her top campaign aide.
St. Guillen and Mejia each were looking to be the first Latina on the council and help create the first-ever majority of women. Starting in January, there will be eight women on the council, and seven councilors of color — the most ever — changing the identity of a panel that has historically been dominated by white men and better reflecting a city where the majority of residents are black, Latino, Asian, Native American, or biracial.
Eighteen cities already use RCV. And for women candidates, it’s a major boon.
Campaigns that use ranked-choice voting are known to be more civil and issue-focused. Under a ranked-choice voting system candidates have to appeal not only to their core base of supporters to win, but to their opponents’ supporters as well. Candidates who attack their opponents under RCV take the risk of alienating a large group of voters, which could cost them the election. Women have traditionally been discouraged by the ugliness of negative campaigning, but RCV alleviates those concerns.
Plus, negative advertising is expensive, and a civil campaign ensures less-funded candidates have a chance at victory. With RCV, New York City could save up to $20 million every four years by eliminating citywide runoff elections. In elections where no candidate wins a majority of the votes, a second election is held, which is extremely costly. When a second election needs to be held, voter turnout also tends to decline.
Check out the Center for American Women and Politics for a tally of all the many milestones for women candidates on Tuesday as well as this piece from The New York Times that provides a good overview of election results:
In its 400-year history, Virginia's House of Delegates has never been led by a woman.
There's a good chance that might change soon. Two women are among the contenders for the powerful role of House speaker after Virginia Democrats continued their winning streak under President Donald Trump on Tuesday, seizing control of both the House and Senate from Republicans for the first time in more than two decades.
"Long overdue," said House Minority Leader Eileen Filler-Corn, a top candidate for the job.
It's just one example of the gains made around the country by women — most of them Democrats and many of them women of color — who have aimed their energy and political might at Trump since the 2016 election. The surge of female winners that continued Tuesday was a troubling signal for the president ahead of his reelection bid, but it also revealed political shifts already underway.
Tuesday's results also mean women will hold majorities in places like the Boston City Council, long seen by many as a "boys' club," and lead communities such as Scranton, Pennsylvania, where voters elected the city's first female mayor, just weeks before she's due to give birth.
A cyclist who lost her job after she flipped off a Trump motorcade won a seat on a county board in Virginia in a district that's also home to one of Trump's golf courses. In Maine, a 23-year-old Somali American woman was elected to the Lewiston City Council, defeating another Democrat and what she described as "internet trolls" who lobbed racist and sexist attacks via social media in the campaign's final weeks.
While Republicans have struggled to match Democrats in electing and elevating women in office, Tuesday's elections did show a bright spot in Trump territory.
GOP women were behind record wins in Mississippi, where 12 women — eight Republicans and four Democrats — won seats in the state Senate. The previous record was nine, set in 2016.
The city council in Las Cruces, New Mexico reached gender parity. Women candidates swept all three council races, doubling the number of women on the six-member city council from two to four. Incumbent Kasandra Gandara (District 1) won in the first round, and the other two races were decided in instant runoffs: Tessa Stuve (District 2) won in third round with 55 percent of the vote and Johana Bencomo (District 4) won in the second round with 65 percent of the vote.
In Santa Fe, New Mexico, Jamie Cassut-Sanchez won her city council election by defeating her two male opponents in the first round with 56.9 percent of the vote — giving women a majority on the council for the first time. Santa Fe had first used RCV in the 2018 city council elections, resulting in four men and four women on the council this past term.
Nelsie Yang became the first Hmong woman elected to the St. Paul City Council Friday, winning a seat that hadn’t been open for more than two decades.
The 24-year-old community organizer won a majority of votes in the ranked-choice contest after four rounds — and nearly eight hours — of election judges hand-counting paper ballots. Former planning Commissioner Terri Thao came in second in the Sixth Ward race.
“I’m feeling incredible,” Yang said after her victory was announced. “So many people walked into fire with me and I’m just so grateful for that.”
New York City, meanwhile, became the latest — and the biggest — city yet to adopt ranked choice voting. The ballot question won overwhelmingly with support of just under 75 percent of all voters. RCV works as an instant runoff: If no candidate in a race collects a majority of votes, the last-place candidates are eliminated and second-choice ballots come into play. It helps end the “spoiler effect,” encourages more positive campaigns, makes costly and low-turnout runoff elections unnecessary, and ensures that all winners have real support from a majority of voters.
This will triple the number of RCV users nationwide — mainstreaming this popular and fast-growing reform that has already been adopted by the state of Maine and cities including San Francisco, Oakland, Minneapolis and St. Paul.
Prior to the election, the Inter-Parliamentary Union’s global ranking of women’s representation in national parliaments had Switzerland in 38th place, with the percentage of women in the House at 32.5 percent. Although their updated rankings have not yet been released, it seems likely that Switzerland will now rise to the top 20 ranked countries.
Women now make up 42 percent of the Swiss House of Representatives and lead seven of the 26 cantons, including, for the first time ever, Obwalden and Zug. With the exception of the Christian Democrats, in fact, women’s representation increased across the political spectrum: Every party has more women in the House following the 2019 election.
The 2019 election is part of a larger and steady upward trend since 1997 toward gender parity in Switzerland’s House of Representatives. That’s due, likely in large part, to the Swiss systems which promote women’s representation and further steps for achieving perfect parity.