Poll: America Praises Female Politicians, But Gender Bias Remains a Barrier to Election

“The question now becomes – how do we eliminate the idea that the country isn’t ready for a female president?” said Robin Graziano, director for Morning Consult.

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Women receive praise for their political skills and positions on issues but continue to be held back by doubts that the country is ready for them to lead, according to a new LX/Morning Consult poll.

About two-thirds of Americans polled said that the belief that the United States was not prepared for a female president was an obstacle when they ran.

Women were more likely to hold that view than men, with 69% describing it as a major or minor barrier and only 31% saying it was not one. Among men, the numbers were 64% and 36%.

The results of the survey, conducted before U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota took third place in the New Hampshire Democratic presidential primary this week, offer evidence that Americans remain skeptical the country is ready for a female leader even if they credit women with the skills to run and do well in office.

“The question now becomes – how do we eliminate the idea that the country isn’t ready for a female president?” said Robin Graziano, director for Morning Consult.

Among the barriers: Women are recruited less by party establishments (67% of those responding agreed it was a barrier versus 33% opposed); family responsibilities (56% versus 43%); and media coverage of female candidates (54% versus 46%).

The findings show that while Americans are more than ready for a woman as president, systemic barriers such as media coverage are still very real problems, said Shaunna Thomas, a co-founder and executive director of UltraViolet, a group fighting sexism.

“That's why it's important that news outlets and political pundits stop letting their bias influence the amount and type of coverage they give to female candidates, especially women of color, in order to tell the full story of this election," she said. “The results also signify a need for the media to stop inserting the gendered notion of electability into analysis and polling writ large.”

The media has faced criticism over its treatment of the Democratic women who remain in the 2020 contest, including Klobuchar and Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, who finished fourth place in New Hampshire. Top finisher Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont won a narrow victory over former Mayor Pete Buttigieg, of South Bend, Indiana, while Rep. Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii, the only other woman still in the race, is at the back of the pack.

One example of that criticism about coverage of women candidates has focused on articles looking at whether Klobuchar was an abusive boss.

As far as how well a woman would do as a candidate, those polled thought that a fictional Democratic woman taking on President Donald Trump would outperform her male counterpart in most ways: campaigning, debate performance, standing up for her policies, uniting the country, working with the media and appealing to working-class, female, swing and young voters.

The fictional man would do better appealing to male voters.

In two important categories, respondents said a woman would do as well as a man: running against Trump and standing up to his attacks. Overall, most Americans think the fictitious Democrat, regardless of gender, would struggle against the president.

Asked about Trump’s attacks — for example, on Thursday morning the president was insulting former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg as “Mini Mike” and a “LOSER” who “can’t debate and has zero presence” — 41% thought the fictional Democratic woman would do an excellent or a good job standing up to the president. But 60% said she would do a just fair or poor job.

The results were similar for the fictional Democratic man, with 39% saying he would do an excellent or a good job versus 61% who thought the result would be just fair or poor.

One possible factor contributing to findings: It is difficult to rate a fictional candidate against someone very well known.

Still, younger people tended to rate women higher than older Americans. On standing up for her policies, for example, 52% of 18- to 29-year-olds gave the fictional Democratic woman an excellent or good score compared to 46% of those 65 or older.

Looking at policy issues, women got higher ratings than did men on health care, education, and climate change. Male candidates were perceived to be better on national security, foreign policy and gun policies.

On almost every issue, 60% or more of those polled judged women and men to be the same. The exceptions were women’s issues, on which only 34% of Americans found women and men to be the same and guns at 54%

“Many of the traditional stereotypes that have built up over time still apply,” said Monika McDermott, a professor of political science at Fordham University. “Women are seen as better on health care, education, and women's issues, and men are better on guns, national security, and foreign policy.”

Methodology: The LX/Morning Consult poll was conducted between Feb. 4 to Feb. 5, 2020, among a national sample of 2,197 adults. The interviews were conducted online and the data were weighted to approximate a target
sample of adults based on age, educational attainment, gender, race, and region. Results from the full survey have a margin of error of plus or minus 2 percentage points.

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