Women running for governor still have to work harder than men, but once elected, voters think female governors are better at getting things done and solving problems than their male counterparts, new research released Nov. 29 shows.
"Voters strongly support women in executive office once they have seen them govern," said Barbara Lee, founder of the Barbara Lee Family Foundation
, a Cambridge, Mass., organization that aims to get more women of any party elected to office.
With U.S. Sen. Hillary Clinton among the leading candidates for the country's top executive spot, a first for a woman in U.S. history, the research "provides a timely overview of voter perceptions of female executive candidates and office holders," Lee said. While the foundation does not endorse candidates, Lee personally supports Clinton .
Nine women currently serve as their state's chief executive, matching the record set in 1994. But that count will dip to eight in January when U.S. Rep. Bobby Jindal, a Republican, succeeds Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Babineaux Blanco, a Democrat. Blanco opted not to run for re-election this year after she was roundly criticized for her performance in the wake of Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
The 2006 elections had the largest class of female gubernatorial candidates, totaling 11, with six winning, including all five incumbents who ran for re-election: Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano (D), Connecticut Gov. M. Jodi Rell (R), Hawaii Gov. Linda Lingle (R), Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius (D) and Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm (D). Republican Sarah Palin in Alaska was the lone newcomer to emerge victorious.
The foundation's research, released in a 46-page report, "Positioning Women to Win,"
was based on a telephone survey of more than 2,700 voters in seven states conducted by a Democratic polling firm, Lake Research Partners, and a Republican firm, American Viewpoint Inc.
The survey found that female candidates still must prove they are both tough and strong, while for men, voters essentially combined the character traits. Those surveyed said successful women candidates show "strength" through their personal character and "toughness" through their political actions.
"Demonstrating toughness without putting voters off remains one of the most difficult challenges women candidates face," according to the report, the latest in a four-part series intended to help women candidates seeking executive office.
When assessing women governors up for re-election, voters tended to distinguish between a governor's job performance and her likeability, but melded those qualities when evaluating male governors, according to the report. So a voter could like a female governor personally, but still not think she's doing a very good job. But those surveyed tended to make a single judgment about male governors, either liking them or disliking them.
Among the survey's other findings:
- A male governor is more likely to be seen as too partisan and as a "typical politician."
- Women must demonstrate more expertise than men on issues associated with "toughness" and finances, such as immigration, taxes and budgets.
- Both older and younger women supported female incumbents by wide margins, but support from younger women was 18 points lower than from women older than 50.
- Independent voters, both women and men, preferred female candidates, regardless of their party, by a margin of more than 23 and 20 points, respectively.
- Voters think of a Republican woman candidate as Republican first, and a woman second, while a female Democratic candidate is more often seen as a woman first, then as a Democrat.
- Incumbent women governors are able to remain competitive with men in fundraising, but it's seen as difficult for female newcomers to break into fundraising circles.
- Successful incumbent governors who are women are collaborative in private and decisive in public.
- Female voters, more than male voters, believe that women governors "share our concerns" and "will clean up state government."
The report also includes tips for women seeking office, including building a fundraising network, getting experience with budget and tax issues, finding and sticking to a style that is comfortable and works and studying past governors' races.