The political pundits keep telling us we cannot, or will not elect a woman president of the United States. Since apparently there will be no contest for the Republican nomination, this message seems directed at the Democratic Party where a half dozen women have been in the race to become the party’s standard bearer.
A poll conducted by Time magazine last September is instructive with regards to this question. In it fifty-six percent of American women said they did not believe a woman could be elected in 2020. In the same poll fifty-five percent of Hispanic women and half of black women said they think a woman is likely to be elected President in 2020, while just thirty-eight percent of white women said so. That translated into a fifty-three percent majority of Democratic women who believe a woman can be elected in 2020. On the other hand, only thirty-five percent of Republican women think Americans are likely to elect a female Commander in Chief in 2020.
The skepticism of Republican women is understandable. The GOP has an incumbent male president who is running for re-election. Women are also virtually absent from significant policy making position in the Trump Administration. When Kirstjen Neilson proved not tough enough on immigrants for Trump, he sacked her, leaving only two Cabinet officers headed by women, Betsy DeVos at Education and Elaine Chao at Transportation.
Although DeVos has no education credentials, her family has been generous in support of Republicans. Chao, the wife of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, has been a member of the Cabinet under the last two GOP presidents.
The significant gains made by women in the 2018 congressional elections seem to belie the notion that a woman cannot win the presidency. One hundred and two women were elected to the US House, while there are now twenty-five women serving in the US Senate. Again, there is a stark partisan discrepancy. Women in the US House number eighty-nine Democrats to thirteen Republicans, while in the US Senate the split is seventeen Democrats and eight Republicans.
Still, overall women hold only approximately twenty-five percent of congressional offices. A woman does occupy the speaker’s chair.
In the business world American women have also made headway. Several major companies currently are led by female CEOs, including General Motors, International Business Machines, Lockheed Martin and Anthem. Women can be found at the helm of a number of smaller corporate enterprises as well and run a high percentage of small business operations.
However, among Fortune 500 corporations less than twenty-two percent of board directors are women.
Internationally, the United States looks misogynistic, ranking 51st overall in progress toward gender parity. The World Economic Forum’s 2018 Global Gender Gap Report grades 149 countries in four categories, economic participation and opportunity, educational attainment, health and survival, and political empowerment. In the last category, the United States ranks 98th, even though women make up more than half the nation’s population and earn more than half of the college degrees.
Around the world, women have assumed significant leadership roles. Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor, has been the most visible and consequential, but Margrethe Vestager, the European Union competition czar has also had a substantial impact, especially on the world’s tech giants. She has fined Google more than $9 billion for monopolistic activities and required Apple to pay Ireland $14.5 billion in back taxes.
French attorney Christine Lagarde has just stepped down as managing director of the International Monetary Fund after eight years. She leaves to take over the presidency of the European Central Bank. The former defense minister of Germany, Ursula von der Leyen has just been elected head of the European Commission.
Looking at the roles women are assuming around the world as well as within the US, it is hard to accept that Americans really are that reluctant to elect a woman president.
Part of the impetus for this idea seems to be the failure of Hillary Clinton to win in 2016. From the outset she had appeared to be a certain winner, but she lost six of the key swing states that Obama had won in 2012 and did not match his total vote. The fact that she received nearly three million more popular votes than Donald Trump is an indication that gender was not the likely cause of her loss.
Her acceptance of large speaking fees from corporate donors in the early stages of her campaign undermined her credibility generally, and she failed to establish a strong connection with key elements of the Democratic base, including African Americans and working class voters. According to an analysis of polling data by RealClearPolitics, Clinton’s approval ratings never matched her disapproval ratings during the entire election year. She was viewed by a majority of voters as dishonest and untrustworthy.
The women running for the Democratic nomination in 2020 do not appear to carry as much negative baggage and three years of Donald Trump has left a plethora of issues around which to craft a winning campaign. That is the challenge---identifying the right issues to emphasize and packaging them in way that is understandable as well as appealing.
A woman can do that just as well as a man, maybe better.