Candidate Competence: Is There a Double Standard?

The 2016 presidential election has brought questions of gender, sexism, and the role of women in politics to the forefront of national conversation. Are Americans ready to see a woman in the role of President, an office that has long been an exclusively male domain? How do our expectations about presidential masculinity—strength, “toughness,” military might—influence the way we evaluate the first female major party nominee? In what ways are voters’ impressions of Hillary Clinton, who has been a major presence in American politics for decades, influenced by the many examples of gendered (and often blatantly sexist) media coverage and comments from her opponent’s campaign?

It is difficult to untangle the effects of gender from the unique circumstances surrounding Clinton herself—her level of experience, name recognition, and many years in the public spotlight ensured that many voters knew who she was well before she announced her candidacy for president, and most voters already had strong opinions about her, as well. However, in order to get a better sense of some of the ways gender has mattered in this race, it may be useful to consider some recent work from political science on how gender stereotypes affect voting behavior, including a new article I wrote (Ditonto 2016) that examines how participants in an experiment evaluated male and female candidates whose competence to serve in office was called into question. In general, I find that women who run for office are more vulnerable to information that casts doubt on their competence and experience than are men. Participants in two experiments liked “incompetent” women less than “incompetent” men and were less likely to vote for them, as well.

Scholars of women and politics have conducted many studies over the past several decades trying to determine whether and how gender-based stereotypes influence women who run for, and serve in, political office. Despite the large amount of attention devoted to this question, though, the evidence is somewhat inconclusive. Many studies have found differences by gender in the ways that candidates are evaluated—women are perceived as more liberal, compassionate, trustworthy, warm and emotional, but less competent, “tough,” and strong (e.g. Huddy and Terkildsen 1993; Kahn 1996). However, some of the most recent work in this area seems to indicate that gender-based stereotypes are not automatically applied to women candidates and that other considerations, like political party affiliation, are much more important to voters than a candidate’s gender (Brooks 2013; Dolan 2014; Hayes 2011).

Yet a third group of studies have found evidence for a sort of “middle ground” for the effects of gender-based stereotypes, suggesting that they may matter for some women candidates in certain electoral contexts, but not in others. The extent to which gender stereotypes matter seems to depend on a number of factors, including the nature of the political advertisements used (Bauer 2015), the policy issues emphasized (Lawless 2004; Holman et al 2011), and the amount or type of other information available during a campaign (Matson and Fine 2006; Ditonto, Hamilton and Redlawsk 2014).

The findings from my most recent study fall into this third category. The point of the study was to determine whether earlier findings that women candidates are often seen as less competent (e.g. Huddy and Terkildsen 1993; Schneider and Bos 2014) would hold if information related directly to a candidate’s competence was also available to voters—things like evaluations of a debate performance, comments from a staffer, or a newspaper editorial. I wanted to know how this sort of substantive, politically-relevant information would change voters’ perceptions of candidates, and whether it would matter differently for women candidates than for men. A previous study some colleagues and I conducted (Ditonto, Hamilton and Redlawsk 2014) found that participants in an experiment that simulated a political campaign sought out more information about a candidate’s competence and experience when that candidate was female. In that experiment, all of the information available about the candidates portrayed them positively—as very competent. However, if voters are seeking out more competence-related information for women candidates than for men, what happens when the information they encounter makes them seem less than totally competent?

In order to find out, I conducted a computer-based experiment that mimicked a presidential campaign between two fictitious (but realistic) candidates—one Democrat and one Republican. Each participant experienced a “campaign” in which various pieces of information about the candidates scrolled down their computer screen. They could click on whichever items they wanted in order to learn more about a particular topic, and their choices included things like the candidates’ policy positions, ideology, family, educational background, etc.—the same kinds of things that are usually available during a real political campaign.

The experiment varied two important factors within the campaign, however. First, half of the people saw two male candidates in the race (one in each party) while the other half saw a woman running in their own political party and a man running for the other party. Second, there was also a subset of information that related specifically to how competent the candidates seemed (how they did in a debate, how the candidate’s opponent talks about them, comments from a newspaper editorial, a description of the candidate’s prior political experience, how the candidate did while holding previous office, and a description of the candidate by a former staff member). Again, I split the sample of participants into two groups—for half of them, this information portrayed their party’s candidate as very competent. The other half saw information that made their party’s candidate seem less competent than one might hope for.

To sum up, participants saw a campaign for president in which they could either see two men running for office, or a woman running in their party and a man in the other party, and in which some of the information available to them either made their party’s candidate seem competent or incompetent. After going through the campaign, they were asked to vote for the candidate of their choice and also to tell me how much they liked their candidate on a 0-100 point “feeling thermometer.”

The results suggest that a candidate’s gender plays a big role in how much we care about his or her perceived competence. Women and men who were portrayed as competent did about equally well in both the outcome of the election and participants’ evaluations—candidate gender didn’t matter to them as long as the candidate seemed competent and qualified. When they were presented with a candidate who seemed less than competent, though, women candidates did far worse than men did. In fact, subjects who saw incompetent women in their party often rated the candidate in the other party as favorably or more favorably than they rated her, and were actually more likely to vote for the other candidate! This was a pretty unexpected finding, since party affiliation is almost always the strongest predictor of someone’s vote choice.

Importantly, incompetent male candidates didn’t suffer the same fate. Essentially, competent and incompetent men fared equally well—their chance of receiving a subject’s vote and the extent to which a subject liked them remained the same, statistically speaking, whether they were portrayed as competent or incompetent.  In other words, participants didn’t seem to care whether their candidate was competent or not, as long that candidate was a man.

In a sense, these results are good news for women candidates. If they come across as competent and qualified, they can do just as well as men. This means that they are not automatically disadvantaged by stereotypes that women candidates are less competent than men. On the other hand, women seem to be disadvantaged by negative portrayals of their competence in ways that men simply are not. Perhaps we should be more surprised that subjects liked incompetent male candidates as much as they did!

The current presidential election may be a pretty good real-world example of this phenomenon at work. Hillary Clinton is widely considered to be one of the most well-qualified candidates ever to run for president, and even her detractors acknowledge that she has far more political experience than Donald Trump, at least in the traditional sense. Yet, there has been a great deal of talk about the different standards that the two are often held to by the media, and even by voters of their own parties. Trump’s seeming ability to get away with saying and/or doing just about anything without losing support is a marked contrast to Clinton, who is continually attacked for things like her “lack of judgment,” not looking “presidential enough,” and not being “authentic.” To be sure, there are many factors at play that contribute to these dynamics, but my findings suggest that that a double-standard when it comes to male and female candidates’ competence may certainly be part of the story.

One More Time

Scholars have long lamented the lack of women candidates for public office. Attempts to recruit women candidates have been widespread, targeting older women with empty nests, younger women without children (or those not interested in having them), lawyers and businesswomen whose experience mirrors that of typical male candidates. But another pool is waiting to be tapped:   losers, women who have previously run for office but did not win. Challenges to re-recruiting these women to run are deep-rooted in societal expectations of women. Yet, the 2016 presidential race offers two examples, Hillary Clinton and Carly Fiorina, who have not let political setbacks stop them from pursuing their goals. Their decisions to persist despite earlier failed campaigns should inspire other women who have run and lost to jump back in the fray.

The common refrain that “when women run, they win” refers to evidence that women and men have similar win rates in general elections (Newman 1994; Sanbonmatsu 2006). But what happens if they lose? Women are less likely than men to run for election after suffering a defeat (Dolan et al 2015). Convincing women (who are less often self-starters) to throw their hats into the ring in the first place takes time; sometimes it requires additional resources from political parties and women’s organizations. (See CAWP resource Poised to Run.) If the woman candidate loses her first election and sours on the prospect, that investment may never pay off. For women who suffer from self-doubts about their qualifications, a loss may provide an excuse not to run again. (Fox and Lawless 2010).  

Yet the 2016 presidential campaign showcased two women candidates who dusted themselves off and got back in the game. Hillary Clinton’s presidential run in the 2008 Democratic primary was a bruising political defeat. Conceding the nomination to relative newcomer Senator Barack Obama, then-Senator Clinton said, “Although we were not able to shatter that highest and hardest glass ceiling this time, thanks to you it has 18 million cracks in it, and the light is shining through like never before, filling us all with the hope and the sure knowledge that the path will be a little easier next time.” Republican presidential candidate Carly Fiorina lost a highly visible Senate race to incumbent Barbara Boxer in 2010. The return of both Clinton and Fiorina to the presidential race in 2016 to take yet another crack at high office is a welcome model for women recovering from election defeats at lower levels all across the country.

In an interview with the Washington Post, Fiorina’s senate campaign manager, Marty Wilson, said, “Carly was bummed after the loss, but I encouraged her to stay involved and run again. I told Carly she should run for president in 2012 and she said I was ‘Nuts.’” Fortunately, Fiorina changed her mind (with encouragement from a political insider). Her compelling performance in the August primary debates established her as a significant presence in the crowded Republican field.

Despite her loss in the 2008 Democratic presidential primary, Hillary Clinton was identified early as the obvious choice for her party’s nomination in 2016, based in part on experience she gained as Secretary of State – a position she won as a consequence of both her service on the Senate Armed Services Committee and her strong showing in ’08.

One never knows what may follow even a losing campaign. Many women officeholders cite their campaigns for lower office as having signaled  to powerbrokers their willingness and ability to serve in appointed positions unanticipated before their races. In Hillary Clinton’s case, seizing the opportunity to serve as Secretary of State under her 2008 opponent, Barack Obama, positioned her for her 2016 run, with the added credential leading many to call her the most qualified presidential candidate of the modern era.

There are plenty of reasons not to dust oneself off and try again. Campaigns are costly, both financially and emotionally, as well as in time that may be in short supply for women who are still responsible for the bulk of household maintenance and often breadwinning for their families. But there may be more at play as well.

Self-doubt has been documented among women in likely candidate pools, and it begins early. In analyzing college-age women and their pursuit of leadership opportunities on campus, Keohane et al 2003 found that at Duke University many women undergraduates were under the pressure of “effortless perfection: the expectation that one would be smart, accomplished, fit, beautiful, and popular, and that all this would happen without visible effort”. It is possible that women candidates face similar social expectations (think supermom and having it all) and a hard-fought campaign loss is hardly evidence of effortless perfection.

So what will it take for women to overcome this? Angela Lee Ducksworth, an assistant professor of psychology at the University of Pennsylvania, argues that success is largely dependent upon grit, described as “passion and perseverance for very long-term goals. Grit is having stamina”. Political campaigns certainly require stamina, and women’s individual tenacity should be supplemented by political parties who can provide volunteers, funds, and public statements of support to make it easier for women to take another chance. Like political campaigns, the adage exemplifying grit, “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try, again” may also be gendered. Carol Dweck, the Lewis and Virginia Eaton professor of psychology at Stanford University, has found that talented girls are less likely to persist following a failure because they perceive abilities to be innate rather than a consequence of effort and practice (Dweck and Leggett 1988). These beliefs may persist into adulthood, as Kay and Shipman (2014) find that women are more likely to blame themselves for failure and give credit to other factors when they succeed, while their male counterparts dismiss failure and claim credit.

Knowing that these gendered differences exist, it is important to highlight the number of men in public office who were not successful at first. They include President Bill Clinton in his 1974 Arkansas congressional race and President George W. Bush in his 1978 Texas congressional race. Even President Barack Obama lost a 2000 Illinois Democratic congressional primary before going on to win a Senate seat in 2004. Speaking to a broader audience, Johannes Haushofer, assistant professor of psychology and public affairs at Princeton University, recently posted a CV of his failures, arguing that making his own failures visible to others would prevent them from wrongfully attributing their own failures to individual flaws rather than the external factors that could be at play.

In the context of a campaign, there could be any number of reasons why a candidate doesn’t receive the most votes irrespective of a candidate’s suitability. The knowledge gained from an initial loss is invaluable to a qualified candidate who may perceive her loss as an indictment of her abilities alone, when in reality she might just need a different campaign manager, a better communications strategy, or a race for a different type of office. Start-up companies across Silicon Valley have spoken out about the importance of failure and learning from our mistakes, indicating that value can come from experience – even negative experiences.

Publically admitting failure is certainly easier for those with privilege. Because male candidates are the default, men who lose and try again may be seen as the “comeback kid” or a “fighter”, while women may be tainted by the loss. It most certainly is easier for a man than a woman to overcome a loser association. That means women should be strategic in the selection of their races, but being strategic shouldn’t mean permanent retirement. It should mean learning from one’s mistakes and demonstrating the toughness that qualifies you for public service. With so few women running for and holding office, the pressure not to let down an entire gender is high. Furthermore, those with fewer resources don’t always have the option of another go-around. It is vital, then, that political parties and women’s organizations provide the institutional support that would make it easier for women to make a second attempt.

For their part, women who don’t win on that first try should take a lesson from Secretary Hillary Clinton and Carly Fiorina and go back at it, bringing even more as a consequence of the earlier defeat. In her commencement speech at the University of Rhode Island, Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor told graduates, “The ‘uh-oh’ moments are worth cherishing just as much as ‘ah-ha’ moments: Mistakes, failures, embarrassments and disappointments are a necessary component of growing wise”. Wisdom is surely a valuable commodity for public officials. Wisdom gained through failure is something previously unsuccessful women candidates can bring to the table, rather than something that should disqualify them from another campaign. We need more women in public office. Not perfect women – wise women. Sometimes that is going to mean stepping up one more time.

 

Leadership in Action: NEW LeadershipTM Alum Raises Consciousness about Women in Politics

The following blog is a guest post from Felise Ortiz, a senior at Rutgers University-New Brunswick, double majoring in Political Science and Women's and Gender Studies with a minor in Spanish. She is an alumna of the NEW Leadership NJ Class of 2011. Felise is the Founder and President of Douglass D.I.V.A.S., a female empowerment student organization at Rutgers University. She is also an Institute for Women's Leadership Scholar as well as an Eagleton Institute of Politics Undergraduate Associate.
jenfelise Jennifer Osolinski (L) and Felise Ortiz (R)

The underrepresentation of women in politics in the United States is an issue that needs to be addressed immediately and with urgency. With the help of the Institute of Women’s Leadership, my partner Jennifer Osolinski and I were able to facilitate a conversation addressing this issue. Our social action project was not only an opportunity to hone our feminist leadership skills but it also served as testament to the fact that the personal is indeed political. As former Eagleton and CAWP interns, Jennifer and I wanted our event to make at least one young woman consider a first step in the direction of politics. We were inspired by programs such as NEW LeadershipTM and Ready to RunTM because they inform women about the current political climate and encourage them to become involved in public service. While strategizing on how to reach a youthful audience, we were approached with the possibility of doing a film “Raising Ms. President” a new documentary about getting girls politically active. Once we watched the trailer, we agreed that it would be a great foundation for our project and our overall message. I learned a lesson in patience and professionalism from this portion of the experience. I also learned that is apart of the feminist model of leadership to use your network. Our networks ultimately resulted in three amazing panelists and the film arriving on time. We had an audience of about twenty-five people who were enthusiastic about the film and project as a whole. I had a list of prepared remarks and questions for the panelist. However, I learned the most from the audience’s engagement with the panelists. There were many though-provoking questions asked and answered. The key moment of the event for me occurred after most of the attendees departed and two panelists were left talking passionately about campaigns. One woman was a Caucasian Republican representative from a suburban town and the other was a Black Democrat from an urban city, and they were networking. I watched politics (how it should work) happen organically with two women who shared a love for public service. This project has taught me three key lessons: 1. The message is worth the madness. We were able to spread our message that women’s political involvement is important and can be transformational when it is made a priority. Any of the difficultly that we may have faced along the way was well worth it. 2. Not only is the personal, political but also the political is often better executed when it is personal. The research and our panelists attested to the fact that there is a dire need for more women in office in order for issues that affect women to be adequately advocated for. Another example would be my personal connection to this project, made me invested enough to see it through to the end. 3. Social justice based women’s leadership has been and will continue to be a force to be reckoned with. During this process I have been inspired by the social action projects of my classmates and how we have rallied together to support one another. The bond we created through this experience has strengthened me and I am truly grateful to have had this opportunity.  

Presidential Lists are Due for Disruption

Today, as we celebrate those individuals who have held our nation’s highest office, it is worth taking note the absence of women from the list of 44 male presidents who have served in U.S. history. While multiple trailblazing women have challenged the expectations of masculine leadership in the White House, too few have received the recognition they deserved or the votes they needed to be labeled as “viable” contenders.Presidents-Day-Graphic-2014-MS The words “woman president” today often cue “Hillary Clinton” among peers, colleagues, family, and friends. Too few people think of Margaret Chase Smith’s historic bid in 1964, as the first woman to have her name placed in nomination at a major party convention; or Shirley Chisholm in 1972, who was the first woman and the first African American to have her name placed in nomination for the presidency at a Democratic National Convention, winning 151.95 delegate votes; or even Victoria Woodhull in 1872, who campaigned for the presidency before women could even vote nationwide. It’s true the 18 million cracks Hillary Clinton made in the proverbial “marble ceiling” of presidential politics may have made it less remarkable for a woman to be taken seriously as a presidential contender, but, as Dr. Ruth Mandel has written, the women who ran before her were instrumental in “[making] the idea [of a woman president] less outrageous to conceive.”  Hillary Clinton is not only viewed as the most viable women who has run, but supporters and opponents alike view her as the most likely woman who will run in 2016. Consistent with all things Clinton, the attention paid to a possible Hillary Clinton candidacy in 2016 is already extreme. Thirty-three months before Election Day 2016, major news outlets like Time Magazine and the New York Times Magazine have made Clinton’s potential bid their cover stories, and few of Clinton’s public appearances go by without analysis over what they indicate about her campaign strategy. But as the assumptions of a Clinton candidacy grow stronger, the idea that she is the (cue: only) woman candidate in 2016 is not only unfair to the many qualified women who could be added to the Democratic and Republican short lists (see Kasie Hunt's commentary on this here), but also places a great deal of pressure on Clinton. While Democratic short lists for 2016 have included more women than in the past – floating Senators Warren, Gillibrand, and Klobuchar in addition to Secretary Clinton, men’s names outnumber women’s names, and few Republican short lists have included women amidst a very open, and arguably weak, Republican field. When women like Governor Susana Martinez are discussed, they are often considered as potential Vice Presidential nominees instead of among those likely to top the party ticket. These short lists are not only important in the horse race, but present cues to voters about who is qualified to run for president. And though women’s stables of elected officials remain smaller than men’s at all levels, there are just as many qualified women – Democrats and Republicans – as men to seek a home in the Oval Office.  So as we reflect on the absence of women on the list of U.S. presidents to date, let’s also question the dearth of women’s names floated as potential presidential contenders.

Gaining Momentum? Taking stock on International Women’s Day

This year’s theme for International Women’s Day is “The Gender Agenda: Gaining Momentum.” Global organizers provide this overview for the celebration’s focus: Over time and distance, the equal rights of women have progressed. We celebrate the achievements of women while remaining vigilant and tenacious for further sustainable change. There is global momentum for championing women's equality. iwd_squareWhen it comes to women’s equitable political representation, the United States needs greater momentum to catch up to most of the world. Today, the United States ranks 77th in the world for women’s parliamentary representation. Accounting for ties, 91 countries actually top the U.S. in the proportion of women in national legislative posts. And, the pace of change in women’s congressional representation in the U.S. over the past decade has been slower than the increases in women’s global parliamentary presence. Some argue that advancing gender equality at all levels will pave the way to women’s leadership at the highest echelons of power, including head of state. But, of course, the momentum for change can come from the top down: many hope that female heads of state will both champion and inspire women’s equality. Most likely, the possibilities for advancement move in both directions. Seventeen women serve as heads of state in 2013. Sixty-nine women (from 46 countries) have acted as their country’s presidents or prime ministers, and almost half of those women took office in the past decade. Unfortunately, we cannot count the United States among them. While it is too simplistic to assume female heads of state will  fix gender inequity in their respective countries, one need only watch Australian Prime Minister Gillard’s recent floor speech on sexism and misogyny to see the benefit of a woman’s voice taken seriously in governmental debates – not only on policy issues, but on institutional norms and processes. As we celebrate the “global momentum for championing women’s equality” today, we should consider how to encourage greater momentum toward women’s political equality at home and abroad. For the United States, that means rejecting complacency about our unimpressive rankings for women’s political leadership and looking to our friends throughout the globe for inspiration on how (and why) to increase women’s political representation at all levels of government. For CAWP's ideas on how to celebrate International Women's Day, click here.  

From the Bus to the Ballot: African American Women’s Electoral History

Rosa Parks – a civil rights icon and activist – was born a century ago today. At age 42, her refusal to abide by segregationist rules on a Montgomery, Alabama bus became a national symbol of civil rights resistance. However, as biographer Jeanne Theoharis writes, Parks’ “lifelong history of activism and anger at American injustice” began far before and continued long after she refused to give up her seat to a white man. The activism that Parks embodied has been woven through African American women’s history and political participation in the United States, but it was not until the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 that African American women could translate that activism into holding electoral office. Shirley Chisholm became the first African American woman, elected to Congress in 1968, leading the way for the 29 African American women who have since followed her footsteps to the United States Capitol. Among these women, only one has served in the United States Senate (Carol Moseley Braun, 1993-1999). Still, the percentage of African American women among all African American members today – 32% - is larger than the percentage of women (18%) in the U.S. Congress. Today, 13 African American women (all Democrats) serve as U.S. representatives, and two Black women are delegates from the District of Columbia and the Virgin Islands. Two hundred and forty African American women currently serve in state legislatures, representing about 13.5% of all women state legislators. Representative Crystal Dreda Bird Fauset (D-PA) became the first African American woman elected to a state legislature 75 years ago. In 2008, then-Assemblywoman Karen Bass (D-CA) became the first woman of color, and first African American woman, Speaker of an Assembly or State House in the country. Two years later, she was elected to Congress; that same year, Assemblywoman Sheila Oliver (D-NJ) became the second African American woman chosen to lead a state’s lower chamber. Dr. Wendy Smooth’s research has shown that the growth in African American women’s electoral representation has outpaced that of African American men since the 1990s, but Smooth writes that African American women’s (formal) political empowerment has yielded “mixed results”:

On the one hand, [African American women] are gaining increased access to political offices, now outpacing African American men in winning elections. On the other hand, they continue to face considerable obstacles to securing high-profile offices at both the state and national level.[1]

Only nine African American women have served in statewide elected executive posts – all since 1993 – and no African American woman has ever been elected governor. Two African American women have run in major party primaries for the United States presidency. Shirley Chisholm became the first African American woman to run for president of the United States in 1972, receiving a symbolic, but unsuccessful, 151 delegate votes. It was not until more than three decades later that Carol Moseley Braun threw her hat in the ring, but she dropped out of the race before the first votes were cast. Before her death in 2005, Shirley Chisholm reflected on the many electoral barriers she broke and the legacy she would leave:

I want history to remember me not just as the first black woman to be elected to Congress, not as the first black woman to have made a bid for the presidency of the United States, but as a black woman who lived in the 20th century and dared to be herself.

In this African American history month – and every day of the year - we honor the daring women who follow in Chisholm’s footsteps, and we should all encourage more women to do the same. Chisholm_Legacy

 
[1] Smooth, Wendy. 2010. “African American Women and Electoral Politics.” In Gender and Elections: Shaping the Future of American Politics, eds. Susan J. Carroll and Richard L. Fox. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press, 165-186.

Madam President?

Inaugural National Mall
(J. Scott Applewhite/AP)
 

 

Today, we watch as Barack Obama is sworn into his second term as President of the United States. Four years ago, Obama made history as the first African American to win a major party nomination for the presidency and, ultimately, take the oath of office. But President Obama wasn’t the only candidate to make history in 2008. Hillary Clinton won more votes (18,000) and more delegates (1010) than any unsuccessful presidential primary candidate in history. She made history as only the second woman to have her name formally placed into nomination for president at the Democratic National Convention, and left the campaign amidst speculation that she would run again in 2012 or 2016. That speculation has hardly died down and, despite Clinton’s own claims that her candidacy is unlikely, the most recent polls show Clinton as the most popular contender for the 2016 contest. As we celebrate the history being made today on the steps of the U.S. Capitol, it is worth taking a moment to reflect on the women who have blazed a path toward the White House and the potential for a woman to take the oath of office in years to come. Two women became candidates for the presidency in the nineteenth century before they could even cast ballots themselves. Victoria Woodhull in 1872 and Belva Lockwood in 1884 were both nominated as presidential candidates by a group of reformers identifying themselves as the Equal Rights Party. As the first woman to practice law in front of the U.S. Supreme Court, Lockwood knew what it felt like to stand alone and did so again in her second presidential bid in 1888. It wasn’t until 1964, 76 years after Lockwood’s second bid, that Republican Senator Margaret Chase Smith from Maine became the first female candidate to have her name placed in nomination for president at a major party convention, winning twenty-seven delegate votes from three states. Eight years later, in 1972, Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm of New York, the first African American woman elected to Congress, became the first woman and the first African American to have her name placed in nomination for the presidency at a Democratic National Convention, winning 151.95 delegate votes.

Women PresCandidates

Between 1987 and 2003, three women – Democrat Pat Schroeder (1987), Republican Elizabeth Dole (1999), and Democrat Carol Moseley Braun (2003) - put their names forward as presidential contenders, but all stepped off the trail before the first primary votes were cast. In 2012, Republican Michele Bachmann left the campaign trail 24 hours after placing sixth in the first Republican primary. In 2007, Ruth B. Mandel described the legacy of the women who ran for presidency in this way:

They made a claim on public awareness by attaching voices and living images of accomplished woman leaders to the idea that one day a woman could conceivably be president. Their actions made the idea less outrageous to conceive.

In 2008, Hillary Clinton echoed this sentiment as she conceded the Democratic primary, telling the crowd,

You can be so proud, from now on, it will be unremarkable for a woman to win primary state victories, unremarkable to have a woman in a close race to be our nominee, unremarkable to think that a woman can be the president of the United States. And that is truly remarkable.

Speculation has already begun about who will run, and who can win, the presidency in 2016. Some women, most notably Hillary Clinton, are among the names being floated as serious contenders. Still, the presidency remains arguably the most masculine office in the land – presenting obstacles well-understood by the women who have run. As she fought to allow women to argue in front of the U.S. Supreme Court over a century ago, Belva Lockwood said, “The glory of each generation is to make its own precedents.” While women have (slowly) worked to establish a precedent of women running for major party presidential nominations, our generation has yet to set a precedent of a female commander-in-chief. So as we celebrate the political history made today, let us consider the political history women have left to make.