Female Candidates May Finally Crush the ‘Electability Paradox’
Strength in numbers could help a woman take the Democratic Party nomination in 2020
There is a pretty decent chance a female candidate earns the Democratic Party nomination for the 2020 election. Those favorable odds are not due to one particular female candidate’s campaign; they’re owed to the fact that several women are running high-profile campaigns. The presence of multiple top-tier, viable female candidates in a presidential race is not something we’ve seen before — and it’s having a profound impact on how voters perceive the field of candidates and the prospect of electing a female president.
Of course, the United States has seen several viable female presidential candidates in the past — heck, Hillary Clinton even beat Donald Trump in the popular vote in 2016 — but never have we seen multiple women appear to actually have a shot. Elizabeth Warren and Kamala Harris are legitimately viable candidates for president, and Amy Klobuchar, Kirsten Gillibrand, and Tulsi Gabbard are in a second or third tier of viability.
While Joe Biden has maintained a steady lead in national polls through the early season of campaigning, his lead is narrowing, largely due to surges by Harris (following the first debate) and Warren (following the second).
The presence of multiple top-tier, viable female candidates is doing away with the “electability paradox” that has long plagued female candidates. The electability paradox is at its core a self-fulfilling prophecy: Because a woman hasn’t before been elected president, voters and journalists remain skeptical that one can be elected; because voters prefer to back a candidate who has a chance, they thus favor the male candidates. Play this cycle over and over, and it’s easy to see how the perception of a gender disadvantage turns into a real gender disadvantage. Hordes of political science research shows that, by and large, voters tend not to hold female candidates to different standards than males — it’s just that voters imagine others hold them to different standards.