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Research and Resources on Women and US Politics (February 2017): Women and Executive Offices

By Melinda A. Mueller

Women and Executive Offices

Considerable research has grown over the past two decades focusing on women as governors and gubernatorial candidates. However, since relatively few gubernatorial offices exist, most of these studies are more qualitative, focusing on individual or comparative case studies. They provide important insights about how women lead at the executive level, and help build a foundation for studying women in the presidency.

Zoe Oxley and Richard Fox studied women running for state-wide executive office from 1979 to 1998, concluding that women were more likely to run in states with a larger eligible pool of women candidates, and in states where party recruitment patterns favored women candidates (Oxley and Fox 2004). Valerie O’Regan and Stephen Stambough suggest that a major barrier to women governors is the “novelty effect,” since women are typically not associated with executive office. In their analysis of races from 1980 to 2006, they argue that this novelty effect hurt women candidates for governor (O’Regan and Stambough 2011).

Very little research exists about women in the presidency. Most research has focused on women presidential candidates. However, Clinton’s role as the first women nominated by a major party opens up considerable opportunities to expand this research. While women have struggled to gain major party nominations for the presidency, researchers have been examining the potential for a female president. Robert Watson and Ann Gordon’s edited book, Anticipating Madam President, analyzes the experiences of female candidates such as Geraldine Ferraro and Elizabeth Dole, as well as the factors that may shape women’s campaigns for the presidency.

Research by Jennifer Lawless after 9/11 concluded that voters were less likely to support female executives, due to an association that women leaders were not as effective at handling military affairs or preventing terrorism (Lawless 2004). However, Susan Hansen and Laura Otero argued that this finding has diminished over time, and that women can illustrate crisis management skills to address voter concerns (Hansen and Otero 2006). Mirya Holman, Jennifer Merolla, and Elizabeth Zechmeister conducted an experiment on voter attitudes about female leaders and terrorism. They concluded that Democratic women are more at a disadvantage when addressing this issue, but that strong national security experience may overcome this perceived disadvantage (Holman, Merolla, and Zechmeister 2011).

Given Hillary Clinton’s close race against Barack Obama for the party nomination in 2008, research has focused on her failed nomination race—leading up to her successful nomination race in 2016. Regina Lawrence and Melody Rose examined media coverage of her 2008 nomination in their book Hillary Clinton’s Race for the White House: Gender Politics and the Media on the Campaign Trail. Another media-focused analysis examined over 6,000 news articles about Clinton’s 2008 race, concluding that the tone of coverage for Clinton was more negative than the tone of coverage for her male counterparts (Miller, Peake, and Boulton 2010). A broader analysis of Clinton includes Kristina Sheeler and Karrin Anderson’s book Woman President: Confronting Postfeminist Political Culture, where they show how political culture and popular culture have contributed to a backlash against Clinton’s rise to power (Sheeler and Anderson 2013). Shawn Parry-Giles’s book Hillary Clinton in the News: Gender and Authenticity in American Politics explores the perception that Clinton lacks authenticity, and shows that this perception is created by negative media coverage (Parry-Giles 2014). Despite negative media coverage and voter perceptions, Mary McThomas and Michael Tesler find that public perceptions of Clinton improved considerably during her tenure as secretary of state (McThomas and Tesler 2016).

Works Cited