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First Female President of the United States

Introduction

As the Democratic party’s front runner in the Presidential Election of 2016, Hillary Clinton has come closer than any other woman to become the US leader. From the earliest days of research on public opinion’s desires and expectations of the presidency, there has been an ongoing recording of documentation regarding the country’s shift from rejection to doubt to the acceptance of the idea that a woman can be the US president (Sharma, 2016). The change in public attitudes regarding female candidates is an essential area of research as it helps to determine whether gender equality has truly been embedded into American society or whether it remains a popular subject of discussion without being put into motion. However, even though electing the first female president will not help alleviate all burdens and limitations associated with gender inequality, the persistent lack of elective force to give women the leading position in office is pertinent to specific social challenges. Thus, it is crucial to examine the public attitude regarding the population’s willingness to elect the first woman president of the US. Even though the American public may be ready to have a first female president, it is uncertain whether the structural limitations in gender inequality will allow for the change to occur.

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Research Goals and Questions

The aim of this study is to explore the plethora of information regarding the US publics’ attitudes toward having a female president. By exploring relevant research on this issue, it will be possible to shed light on how the American public views the presidential position and who is seen as the ‘ideal’ or ‘anticipated’ leader. The research questions to achieve the goal are the following:

  1. Are American voters ready for a female to hold the presidential position?
  2. What is the impact of culture, values, and beliefs on influencing the public’s attitude?
  3. Is there opposition to the idea of female US presidents?
  4. Do sexism and gender stereotypes impact the decision-making of the public when electing a new president?
  5. Has there been a shift in trends in public opinion?

Methods

To answer the identified research question, a literature review methodology was chosen because it allows creating a strong foundation for advancing knowledge and facilitating the development of the theory (Snyder, 2019). A literature review will address research questions with the power that no single study can have by integrating relevant findings and perspectives from various research studies. In addition, the method can help provide an overview of research in areas where there is high disparity. Finally, the literature review methodology will synthesize research findings to illustrate meta-level evidence and reveal areas in which more studies are needed, which is crucial for creating theoretical frameworks and conceptual models.

Literature Review

The earliest recorded public opinion survey intended to determine whether Americans would vote for a female president was a Gallup poll in 1937 in which the respondents were asked the question with the caveat of “if she were qualified in every other aspect” (Erskine, 1971, p. 277). Later in 1945, Gallup removed the phrase and carried out a newer version of the poll, asking respondents, “if the party whose candidate you must often support nominated a woman for the President of the United States, would you vote for her if she seemed best qualified for the job?” (The Roper Center, 2016, para. 2). The results of the poll were identical to those in 1937, with around a third of respondents saying that they would elect a female president. In 1948, the nation was split on an updated version of the question, which identified a woman candidate as qualified but not “best qualified” (Malone, 2016). Gallup settled the final wording of the question in 1958, which has been asked several times since then. Significant developments regarding the public’s readiness to elect a woman president occurred in the 1970s, with the rate of respondents that said yeas to the abovementioned question rising, reaching 94% in the recent 2019 poll (The Roper Center, 2021).

It is notable that despite the fact that Americans say that they are ready to elect a woman as the leader of the country, others had not been as optimistic, with significant population shares remaining skeptical. According to the 2016 poll by CNN/ORC, 28% of respondents said that it was not too important that a woman was elected president while 22% said that it was not at all important that a woman was elected president (“CNN/ORC poll results: 2016 election,” 2016). 19% of respondents in the poll that said that America was not ready to have a female president is similar to the rate of respondents that said almost the same about African-American president in the 2008 Los Angeles Times and Bloomberg poll (Decker, 2008). Nevertheless, earlier polling suggested that the majority of Americans believed that a woman president was more likely to occur before electing a Black president (The Roper Center, 2021).

Concerning the influence of voter characteristics and values on their willingness to elect a woman president, Democrats and Republicans have shown to have differing views on the matter of things in the presidential election as well as the factors that hold women back. According to Pew Research Center, Democrats and Democratic-leaning individuals are more than two times as likely as Republicans and persons learning Republican to state that there are not enough women in high political positions, with 79% versus 33% respectively (Horowitz, Igielnik, & Parker, 2018). Moreover, even though 64% of Democrats suggest that discrimination based on gender is a significant reason why women do not have the desired level of representation in political leadership, only 30% of Republicans agree with the statement (Horowitz et al., 2018). Therefore, the political affiliation of the population influences the willingness to vote for a female president.

Besides the impact of political ideology, there is also a significant gender gap in the views of women in positions of political leadership. As suggested by the Pew Research Center, approximately seven in ten women state that there are not enough women in high political offices as well as top executive business positions, while around a half of men say the same (Horowitz et al., 2018). Moreover, women are far more likely compared to men to identify structural limitations and unequal expectations that hold women back from attaining high leadership positions (Horowitz et al., 2018). Seven in ten women and half of the men surveyed by Pew Research Center agree on the fact that a significant reason for females not being represented enough in top political and business roles is that they have to do more in order to get approval (Horowitz et al., 2018). Moreover, while 44% of women say that discrimination based on gender is a significant barrier to female leadership, a smaller share of men (36%) agree to this (Horowitz et al., 2018). Moreover, the same study revealed that gender gaps also persist among Republicans and Democrats. Even though there was an increase in female candidates for the presidency, American women have significant doubts that voters are ready to elect more females as political leaders. A large share cites the lack of readiness as the main reason for the underrepresentation of women in political offices, with 57% of women saying so while men (32%) see this issue as a less significant impediment (Horowitz et al., 2018).

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Gender roles and biases have been shown to have a major influence on the decisions of the public to elect a female president. For instance, the position of a president is often associated with socially constructed masculine characteristics such as assertiveness, boldness, power, and decisiveness, which makes it difficult for a female candidate to be seen as capable of holding such positions (Nini, 2021). In addition, it is not the presidential system alone that limits women’s capacities to become country leaders. As a whole, society continues favoring masculinity and rewarding masculine traits with higher salaries as well as more business and political opportunities (Bailey, LaFrance, & Dovidio, 2018). Because of such a structural inequality, women have to fight harder to prove their belonging in contexts from which they have been historically excluded, and politics are among the prominent spaces in which women have not received enough recognition (UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs, 2020). For example, six women, senators, state representatives, and authors, were running for the 2020 Democratic nomination, which was a record number. However, a poll suggested that those women had no chance of becoming candidates for the presidency, with 56% of surveyed individuals stating that a white man would be the most likely to defeat Trump (Hook, 2019). Only 12% of surveyed respondents said that a white woman could whine, with the percentage being lower for African American women and Latinas at 11% and 6%, respectively (Hook, 2019). When asked about a particular candidate that could beat Trump in the 2020 election, the respondents stated that Joe Biden would either “definitely” or “probably” become the President (Hook, 2019). Such findings point to the fact that the public had already had a pre-set expectation of the perfect American candidate to counter the disappointment that followed the previous elections (Martincic, 2019). However, the expectations did not reflect American society’s diverse racial, cultural, and gender profile. Even though women constitute more than half of the US’s population, they have been left out once again because of the systematic implicit bias.

Taking into account the persistence of gender and racial biases that prevent women from attaining positions of leadership in politics, it is important to note the importance of Kamala Harris’s victory as the Vice President of the US as a signifier of the upward trend in the public’s acceptance of women as political leaders (Georgeac, 2020). Even though Hillary Clinton’s attempts to become the US President in 2008 and 2016 moved the trends toward the acceptance of a woman as the country’s leader, the attempts were unsuccessful. Nevertheless, such developments enabled women in the 2020 presidential arena to scrutinize stereotypes of what a presidential candidate should look like in the future. The attainment of the vice-president elect’s position by former California Senator Kamala Harris could be a signifier that American politics will continue changing in the future (Georgeac, 2020). It is notable that Harris’s bid for the presidency in the primary was among the reasons why she was chosen as Biden’s mate in the election (Georgeac, 2020). Since Harris was one of the first names to the surface when considering a candidate for the vice-president, all other potential candidates emerging later were juxtaposed to her.

Kamala Harris was chosen as Biden’s mate in the presidential campaign because of her experience in national campaigning, her powerful rhetoric, as well as the diverse background (Gutgold, 2020). According to Georgeac (2020), Harris, as an ambitious political woman-leader, faced significant pressure to demonstrate ‘masculine’ qualities and de-emphasize ‘feminine’ ones. Moreover, she had to walk the tightrope because women that are perceived as ‘masculine’ can often face backlash because of their violation of the socially constructed expectations of behaviors dependent on gender (Georgeac, 2020). Thus, it is challenging to adhere to the expectations of leaders, which are often associated with masculine characteristics, without also getting too far from the gendered expectations of female roles. Such severe pressure to fit public expectations is all the more highly challenging for women of color because they also face racial bias (Frye, 2019).

The nomination and victory of Kamala Harris as vice president-elect is an undoubted representation of the growing trend of the US public’s acceptance of women as leaders in the political sphere. Nevertheless, no matter how inspiring such a historical event may seem, Georgeac (2020) suggests that the degree to which the public would interpret it as evidence of all women and women of color’s (WOC) access to equality of opportunity may change. It is possible that the population will become less sensitive to the persistent inequalities that WOC face in other domains of life, such as disparities in healthcare, or race and gender pay gaps (Georgeac, 2020). Because of this, Harris’s victory cannot be used as evidence of the US’s commitment or achievement of social equality because it does not address the persistent barriers that women continue facing. Instead, it is imperative to work on clearly defining goals and plans of action for overcoming inequality throughout different domains while celebrating the advancement that Harris’s victory represents for all women in top political leadership positions.

Discussion

The analysis of the evidence on the readiness of US voters to elect a female president revealed several vital points. Historically, the trend toward acceptance of a qualified female to become the country’s leader has been going steadily upward, and today, more than 90% of the population agrees that they are ready to elect a woman. However, there is a lack of unity regarding this opinion among the representatives of opposing parties as well as genders. While Democrats are more open toward the idea of a female president, Republicans’ expectations of a country leader are less open-minded. Moreover, the majority of women agree that there are structural limitations in the form of gender and racial biases that prevent them from attaining top leadership positions in business and politics, while men are less likely to see it as an issue. When powerful and ambitious women introduce themselves as potential candidates for high leadership roles in politics, they are often scrutinized for having to adhere to masculine roles while also preserving their feminine perspectives on relevant issues. Therefore, there are unreasonable expectations set for female politicians because their area of work is saturated by masculine leaders, which means that women must work harder in order to get the respect and recognition they need to advance in leadership roles. The findings have also pointed to the fact that the positive developments, such as the second place of Hillary Clinton in the 2016 election as well as the victory of Kamala Harris as vice president-elect in the 2020 election, do not alleviate the issues of gender inequality. Even though America is ready to elect a female president in the future, it is suggested that consistent actions are needed to battle inequalities in all areas of life and not only politics.

Conclusion

To conclude, there is significant evidence to suggest that Americans are ready to elect the first woman president, and the victory of Kamala Harris as the vice-president-elect is a large step in that direction. However, there are significant structural challenges associated with gender bias and stereotyping that prevent women from becoming consistent runners in presidential campaigns. Despite the fact that public opinion polls reveal that there is no general opposition of the population toward a female president who is highly qualified for the job, the barriers associated with equality, diversity, and inclusion need to be alleviated first. The unreasonable expectations of female candidates in the context of socially constructed gender norms are persistent and remain to be addressed.

References

Bailey, A., LaFrance, M., & Dovidio, J. (2018). Is man the measure of all things? A social cognitive account of androcentrism. Personality and Social Psychology Review, 23(4), 307-331. Web.

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CNN/ORC poll results: 2016 election. (2016). Web.

Erskine, H. (1971). The polls: Women’s role. The Public Opinion Quarterly, 35(2), 275-260. Web.

Frye, J. (2019). Racism and sexism combine to shortchange working black women. Web.

Georgeac, O. (2020). What Kamala Harris’s nomination means for women’s equality. Web.

Gutgold, N. (2020). Your view: Why Kamala Harris victory is important for women in politics. The Morning Call. Web.

Hook, J. (2020). This poll asked voters to create their perfect candidate. Democrats picked an older white guy. Los Angeles Times. Web.

Horowitz, J., Igielnik, R., & Parker. (2018). Women and leadership 2018. Web.

Malone, C. (2016). From 1937 to Hillary Clinton, how Americans have felt about a woman president. Five Thirty Eight. Web.

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Martincic, S. (2019). Is America ready for a female president? Fourth Estate. Web.

Nini, M. (2021). Decisiveness: Why decisive action matters for professionals in leadership positions and beyond. Web.

The Roper Center. (2016). Madame president: Changing attitudes about a woman president. Web.

The Roper Center. (2021). Madame president: Changing attitudes about a woman president. Web.

Sharma, D. (2016). The global Hillary. Women’s political leadership in cultural contexts. Routledge.

Snyder, H. (2019). Literature review as a research methodology: An overview and guidelines. Journal of Business Research, 104, 333-339. Web.

UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs. (2020). Inequality in a rapidly changing world. Web.

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