The Gendered Glass-Ceiling Holds Strong for 2020 Democrats
Following the most recent midterm elections, in which female candidates for political office were elected at rates higher than ever before, many dubbed 2018 the “Year of the Woman.” With milestone wins in the House, Senate, and gubernatorial elections across the nation, women began to see themselves gain substantial, though not yet proportional, representation in electoral politics. Empowered by this trend and the strength of the #MeToo movement, several female politicians took a leap into the race for the Democratic nomination for president in 2019’s first quarter. However, gendered notions of being “presidential” or “likeable” maintain a strong grip on the race for the nation’s highest office.
Several seasoned female politicians, valued for their efforts in their current roles, are being continuously outshined by the largely white, male group of frontrunners in early 2019. Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), a legislative expert who’s releasing new policy proposals on a weekly basis, trails in the polls behind white men 20 years her junior, such as South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg and former Representative Beto O’Rourke (D-TX), neither of whom have served a day in the Senate. Similarly, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), a popular New York politician known for working across the aisle to achieve huge legislative victories, struggles to garner more than one or two percentage points in recent polls and seems to lack the media coverage of former Vice President Joe Biden, who has yet to even announce his candidacy as of mid-April.
For instance, a search of New York Times stories for the month of April thus far results in 36 headlines featuring Biden’s name. A search for Senator Kamala Harris (D-CA), who announced her presidential campaign months ago, produced a mere nine. Yes, much of Biden’s coverage from earlier this month stemmed from an accusation of inappropriate touching from a former Nevada Assemblywoman, but as they say -- all press is good press. Similar proportions held true for candidates hailing from a lower office, as Representative Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI) was featured in only one headline this month, while O’Rourke received seven mentions.
As with most journalistic trends, writers are pitching stories that align with reader demands. Recent national polls from Emerson and Morning Consult show Biden, O’Rourke, and Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) with leads among voters, and Harris attaining a fourth-place finish with around eight percent of the party’s support. Warren garners seven percent in each poll, with all other female candidates polling at or below one percent, including Klobuchar, Gillibrand, and Gabbard.
These numbers lead many to wonder -- do we not have faith in a woman to hold the highest office in the United States? In a political atmosphere where voters’ preferences are increasingly synchronized with identity politics, how are white men consistently garnering a collective majority of the preferred vote when the Democratic party electorate is 58 percent female and 28 percent African-American? Many note the selection of Hillary Clinton as the 2016 Democratic nominee as a milestone for female politicians -- and it most certainly was. However, Clinton also faced a far smaller field of candidates, and fewer white men with which to compete. While 2018 was certainly a peak for women in electoral politics, where do they go from here? The glass-ceiling will remain intact until Democratic party voters start to question their own motivations at the polls and try to break outside of the traditional mold of what a president is supposed to look like.