The idea that we are ‘getting closer’ to a woman in the White House forces those of us who have written about women and the U.S. presidency to consider the obstacles that may face women as presidential candidates. Why haven’t more seemingly qualified women candidates run for President of the United States? It would seem that in a world without gender bias, more women would be top contenders for the presidency. The question of whether or not young women believe that a woman will be president is a pertinent one. Presumably it is the college educated women who will seek elected office and one of them will ascend to the Oval Office. For years, scholars of women and leadership have contended that the mere presence of women leaders will create a more positive environment for future leaders. “Seeing a group of women in leadership roles helps remove a psychological barrier for both women and men,” said Council of Women World Leaders Secretary General Laura Liswood.
Research on the prospects of a woman president often considers the leadership potential of young women and girls. The reasoning is that if future leaders believe that they could be successful, more girls will grow into women who will enter elections and the more women who run, the more women will win. For example, the program Take our Daughters to Work and the leadership conferences and institutes springing up for girls as young as age seven are evidence that training girls and young women early to think of themselves as leaders may increase their chances of becoming leaders later. For example, The Girls Leadership Institute in Pittsfield Massachusetts, “inspires girls to be true to themselves,” and offers “the skills and confidence to live as leaders.” And at Women’s Media Center, girls’ voices have been added to the conversation about women in the media in several ways, such as a multimedia series called Girls Investigate: Our Views on Media that explores girls’ ideas about popular culture, social media and the intersections between the two.
I was reminded of the idea of sparking the interest in future women leaders early last year when a young college woman who read one of my books came to my home to interview me for a school project. We spoke about the obstacles that women broadcasters and politicians have faced over the years. She was bright and pleasant and demonstrated sophisticated thinking about the topics. When she turned to leave she said, shaking her head: “It’s interesting to read about these women, but I just don’t believe that we will have a woman president in my lifetime.” I was taken aback by her pessimism. She is after all, the future.
It made me wonder if other young women held the same negative view about women in politics. To that end, the poll “Believing or Not Believing in Madam President” surveys college women to learn whether or not they were encouraged by the presidential and vice presidential bids of Hillary Clinton and Sarah Palin to believe that a woman would be president in their lifetime. With this thinking in mind a survey was conducted in light of the prominent role of women in the 2008 presidential election. College age women were asked to reflect on their belief that a woman would become President of the United States based on the presidential bid of Hillary Clinton and the Vice Presidential bid of Sarah Palin.
“Believing or Not Believing in Madam President Poll” has been administered to college women, age 18-25 and after a little over 400 surveys have been returned, there is evidence to show that more young women were encouraged by the presidential race of Hillary Clinton than by the vice-presidential bid of Sarah Palin and that the effort of both women were more encouraging than discouraging to their belief in a future woman president. The poll asks women to reflect about whether or not the campaigns of these national female politicians made them believe that there would be a woman president in her lifetime.
Out of 402 surveys, 230 women said “yes” that the presidential bid of Hillary Clinton encouraged her to believe that a woman would be president in her lifetime. Eighty were encouraged by the vice-presidential bid of Sarah Palin while forty-two respondents were not encouraged by either woman and fifty women thought that both women’s efforts turned them into believers.
Some comments about Hillary Clinton from respondents include: “She was one of the first women who looked like she could win” and “She made me believe that a woman will be a strong candidate.” Another respondent said, “I knew she wouldn’t win.” As for Palin, students wrote: “She made women sound stupid” and “The media focused too much on her personal life and not enough on her politics.” Another respondent said Palin made her a believer in a woman president in her lifetime because “As soon as Obama won many people were already campaigning for Palin in 2012.” Some respondents were encouraged by both Clinton and Palin. One wrote: “Both Clinton and Palin are evidence that women are beginning to climb the ladder in education, work and politics. It is still a struggle, for many reasons, but it is much better than it was.”
This poll indicates that young women have noticed the efforts of Clinton and Palin and for the most part more young women are encouraged by their efforts than turned off by them.