“I would vote for a woman, but the women running for president just aren’t that likable.”
In 2020, six women ran for president, the same number as nearly all previous campaigns previously. Four were eminently qualified, well-spoken, intelligent, and hard-working. They lost.
Electable: Why America Hasn’t Put a Woman in the White House…Yet by Ali Vitali is part election post-mortem, part professional reflection about the media’s role covering female candidates, part personal memoir, and part prescription for the future.
In 2019, Vitali crisscrossed the country in planes, trains, and automobiles covering Amy Klobuchar, Kristen Gillibrand, Kamala Harris, and Elizabeth Warren. She watched them surge and then flame out before Joe Biden consolidated his support and crushed his opponents before Super Tuesday.
To be sure, factors other than gender produced Biden’s victory. His position as Barack Obama’s vice president and name recognition provided by eight years in the White House gave him an immediate leg up. Voters also believed he was trustworthy and kind. The presence of Donald Trump on the other side of the ticket dominated the conversation in the primary. Democratic voters weren’t just selecting the most qualified candidate or candidate they liked the most, but the one they thought would be most likely to defeat Trump and the mortal threat he posed to the nation.
Faced with this menace, most Democrats concluded that even if they supported a female candidate, their neighbors might not. Biden was the safest choice.
Why? Vitali posits a few reasons why Democratic voters overwhelmingly concluded a woman couldn’t win in 2020 and then she backs it up with hard-won data. First, the standards voters use to evaluate candidates are not applied evenly to men and women. Which sounds a bit like a “duh” statement, but the real-life examples Vitali provides smack the reader in the face.
On Feb. 7, 2020, Klobuchar pointed out that her credentials far outweighed those of her rival, Pete Buttigieg. She was right. Buttigieg had only served as mayor of South Bend, Indiana, and had lost his only state-wide campaign. Instead, he leaned on his service in the private sector and the military to boost his credentials.
Vitali argues that Buttigieg is both exceptionally talented and brilliant, and benefited from male privilege in the 2020 primary election. No female mayor would have been afforded the same platform. Voters will support male candidates with few qualifications because of their future potential, but women must show their extensive track-record of success.
The inverse is also true. Voters will support a male candidate they don’t like because they think he is qualified or will be successful in office—an argument offered by many Republican voters about Trump. Yet, when it comes to women candidates, they will say “there’s just something about her I don’t like.”