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Experts Analyze Survey Showing Wave of Women Engaged in Politics

Panel at Women & Politics Institute event

As the results of a new online Gender on the Ballot poll indicate that women will be a force in the 2020 election, a panel of experts gathered at the AU School of Public Affairs (SPA) to discuss how that enthusiasm may affect the challenges faced by female candidates.

Betsy Fischer Martin, executive director of the Women & Politics Institute, moderated the January 22 campus event, which was cosponsored by the Barbara Lee Family Foundation.

Nearly one-third of likely women voters report increased political involvement since 2016, according to the survey. While 42% reported encouraging friends to vote, 33% had signed petitions, and 24% had contacted elected officials or signed up for an email list for a candidate or issue group.

“Beyond women voting -- which they are certainly doing in record numbers – we are peeling back to look at why they are participating and, if not, how can we break down those barriers,” says Fischer Martin. “We know the more engaged women are in politics, the more apt they are to run for office. I am encouraged by the data.”

Kate Jeffers, an associate with Benenson Strategy Group, which conducted the poll, noted that Democrats, young voters, and women of color, all of whom were more likely to attend community-oriented events, were central to this increased participation. Women report various reasons for this increased involvement, but most profess a desire to make the country a better place.

“Of those who haven’t gotten involved, time is the biggest barrier for political participation,” said Jeffers. “Time is not as big of a barrier for men. For them, money is a bigger issue. Women don’t see not having enough money as an obstacle.”

While 35% of Democratic women report greater participation in recent years and 39% say they will be more involved this year, Republican women report increases of just 27% and 23%, respectively.

“That’s a huge warning sign for the Republican party because they have been losing female voters to the Democratic party at pretty fast rates in the last few cycles – not just in voter trends, but in candidates stepping up to run for office at every level” said Alexis McCammond, a political reporter with Axios.

As more women are elected to office, it opens the door to others. “There is an imagination barrier for a lot of voters and when they see a woman succeeding in executive office, it breaks down those stereotypes in their mind,” said Amanda Hunter, research and communications director at the Barbara Lee Family Foundation.

Still, coaches teach women candidates to use action verbs to convey accomplishments, to emphasize what they can do for voters over talk of breaking glass ceilings, and to exude confidence.

“Women need to know when seeking executive office that they are expected to be twice as good and that’s because men are assumed to be qualified and women have to prove they are qualified over and over,” Hunter said. “Women have to show they are strong enough, but they can’t be too tough because they won’t be likeable. Presentation is so important. The standard is really perfection.”