How the “Electability” Issue May Have Hurt Women Candidates in 2020

Elizabeth Warren, one of the candidates who unsuccessfully ran for President of the United States in 2020.

Quite a few people were devastated when Senator Elizabeth Warren’s campaign for President of the United States ended early with disappointing results on Super Tuesday. Following her departure from the race, there has been much talk of how sexism, not the substance of what she was advocating for, may have affected her campaign.

And, there seems to be truth to the belief that sexism hurt Warren’s candidacy, as well as the candidacies of Senator Amy Klobuchar and Senator Kamala Harris. However, it seems like that sexism is playing out through the veil of a word that has been used time and time again by many a progressive activist in 2020: electability.

There is much terror in progressive circles over what has happened during the Trump administration, particularly with regard to a number of civil rights issues. In response, most Democrats want to nominate someone who can beat President Trump in November…someone who is, well, electable. In fact, the top priority among Democratic voters is beating Trump—a solid majority of respondents in a poll from last November prioritized a candidate who could beat Trump over a candidate who they agreed with ideologically.[1]

This electability argument seems fine and innocent for many progressives…until you consider how that argument likely undermined the female candidates such as Warren, Klobuchar, and Harris. According to an Ipsos poll done in mid-2019, the plurality of Democratic and Independent voters thought that a woman would have a harder time beating Trump than a man would, and only a third of Democratic and Independent voters thought that their neighbors would be comfortable with a female president.[2]

In summary, even Democrats and Independents, who themselves, on average, are ready for a female president,[3] think that female candidates have an electability problem. In an election where electability is by far the top priority of voters, the perceived lack of electability of female candidates put the likes of Warren, Klobuchar, and Harris at a disadvantage from the beginning.

But what should we do about this problem, as this may not be the last time that electability may come up as an issue in primaries at the national level?

It seems like two options tend to be suggested: we either need to stop making electability a priority, or else somehow convince ourselves and others that women are electable.

Suggesting that people should stop making electability a priority is probably the more unpopular of the two options among many progressives; after all, many progressives desperately want to defeat President Trump and would likely feel the same about many prominent Republicans if they were president. At the same time, if people want electability to be a priority, that’s a measurement that, as I have shown, puts all female candidates at the national level, even female candidates in a Democratic primary process, at a major disadvantage even if they had the best policies ever.

However, even if people stop making electability a priority, there’s still that nagging problem that women are often viewed as less electable than men (even if electability is a secondary or tertiary priority). Not making electability the priority doesn’t take away the problem that women are often viewed as inferior presidential candidates because they’re viewed as less electable than men; it only attempts to minimize the problem. Therefore, the better option might be to work towards the point that women are viewed as every bit as electable as men.

But how do we get to a point that women are electable, too? I propose a few ideas, but am open to others:

  1. We need to convince ourselves (and others) that people are, in general, more ready for a female president than many of us realize. That Ipsos poll I cited earlier says that 74% of Democrats and Independents are comfortable with a female president. Yet, only 33% of Democrats and Independents say that they think their neighbors are comfortable with a female president. Some of the other polling I cited earlier notes that 53% of Americans (encompassing all political affiliations) are either “very ready” or “extremely ready” for a female president, yet only 16% of Americans believed that most fellow Americans were ready for a female president. Let these statistics show that most Americans really are ready for a female president.
  2. We need to understand why those who feel “moderately ready” for a woman to be president feel that way. 53% of Americans either feel “very ready” or “extremely ready” for a woman to be president, but there’s another 25% of Americans who feel “moderately ready” (leaving only 22% of Americans who feel only “slightly ready” or “not ready at all”). Namely, we need to understand what makes that 25% feel hesitant about having a woman president, because if those hesitations can be addressed, you then have an overwhelming majority of Americans feeling ready for a woman president.
  3. We need to examine our own biases about women in power. I could probably dedicate a whole post to the topic of biases against women in power, but criticisms such as “bossy,” “strident,” and “abrasive” are levied against powerful, successful women much more than against powerful, successful men.[4] We need to be honest with ourselves and see whether we tend to levy such biases disproportionately on successful women, because if we do, we are making it less likely that we will vote for women (and potentially less likely that we would view women as electable). I say this from experience, because I used to think that Warren was abrasive, and I did not consider voting for her until I realized that this belief came from my own biases about women in power.[5]

“Electability” arguments probably did hurt female candidates this year. However, moving forward, if we want to have the first Madame President of the United States, we need to do all we can to make sure that pro-electability does not result in anti-female attitudes towards candidates.


[1] https://news.gallup.com/poll/268448/democrats-thinking-strategically-2020-nominee-choice.aspx

[2] https://www.ipsos.com/sites/default/files/ct/news/documents/2019-06/daily-beast-gender-topline-2019-06-17-v2.pdf

[3] https://leanin.org/data-about-gender-bias-and-electability-in-the-2020-election

[4] https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/womens-blog/2014/oct/03/when-will-we-stop-calling-successful-women-abrasive

[5] Ultimately, I couldn’t vote for her because she dropped out before my state’s primary.

What is the 1994 Crime Bill, and Why is it So Controversial?

Many of the readers who have listened to some of the debates between candidates for President of the United States may be aware of a line of attack often used against former Vice President Joe Biden and Senator Bernie Sanders: “You voted for the 1994 crime bill.”

It’s a line used when the candidates on stage, all of whom are trying to become the presidential nominee from the Democratic Party, are trying to distinguish themselves from Senator Sanders and former Vice President Biden on the issue of criminal justice. It is especially important for other candidates to distinguish themselves from those two candidates because Senator Sanders and former Vice President Biden are viewed as frontrunners for the Democratic Party nomination. It is also a line that the other candidates use to try and convince their voters that they, not Senator Sanders or former Vice President Biden, should be trusted on the issue of criminal justice.

Which begs the question: What is the 1994 crime bill, and why is it so controversial? With the first caucus of the election year happening in Iowa tonight, answers to these questions are important.

The tricky thing about summarizing the 1994 crime bill is that the piece of legislation tried to address many issues, ranging from funding for police to gun control to domestic violence. The short story is that the 1994 crime bill, whose proper name is actually the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994, was supposed to focus on enforcement of and prevention of violent crimes, though it did some things beyond that scope (a couple of which I will talk about later in this post). For a detailed summary of the 1994 crime bill, view the bill’s summary here.

As one might expect with a bill trying to deal with a wide range of issues, the reality of how “good” or “bad” it was is actually more complicated than many candidates might make it out to be.

In spite of that fact, there are, undoubtedly, parts of the bill that should make one question Biden and Sanders on criminal justice (since they both supported the act and Biden helped write it[1]). For example:

  • The bill “stripped all Pell Grant funding for college education for prisoners.”[2] This sort of action counters the narrative among many (especially on the left) that incarceration should have a restorative element, that it should not just be about punishing someone for their actions, but that they also can be able to work towards being productive contributors to society when/if they leave prison.
  • The bill provided $6 billion (in 1994 dollars) in funding “for prevention programs which were designed with significant input from experienced police officers”[3]—money that was, from all accounts, spent on punitive measures for the most part. On the surface, it sounds like a good idea to let people with experience in law enforcement be able to have a say in how to prevent violent crime. The problem? As it turned out, that money was predominantly used for punitive measures[4]—measures that would go against the ideal among many Democrats that there should be a restorative element to time in prison.
  • The 1994 crime bill is blamed for being a factor in a drastic increase in incarceration in the United States.[5] The extent to which the current mass incarceration issues should be attributed to the 1994 crime bill is up for debate, especially since the increase in mass incarceration was already beginning to happen, but there seems to be significant agreement from criminal justice scholars that the bill made this problem worse.

However, there were also some aspects of the 1994 crime bill that are either popular with progressives or popular on a bipartisan basis. Three of those aspects are as follows:

  • There was considerable gun control in the 1994 crime bill. According to the bill’s summary, the bill, “Bans the manufacture of 19 military-style assault weapons, assault weapons with specific combat features, “copy-cat” models, and certain high-capacity ammunition magazines of more than ten rounds.”[6] While one could debate the effectiveness of this form of gun control, the fact is that gun control tends to be a major aspect of most candidates’ platforms on the Democratic side, and that therefore the 1994 crime bill did much of what a lot of Democrats want on guns (including Democrats critical of Biden and Sanders for their support of the 1994 crime bill).
  • One of the most popular aspects of the 1994 crime bill was the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA). VAWA, which was within the 1994 crime bill, added measures to better hold perpetrators of domestic violence accountable.[7] For example, before the 1994 crime bill, “domestic abusers could cross state lines to avoid prosecution for beating their spouses, as law enforcement was not to required to listen to orders of protection filed in other states” (something that, from my understanding, was not possible after the act passed).[8]
  • VAWA, which as I said was under the 1994 crime bill, also created the National Domestic Violence Hotline.[9] Before finding out that this hotline was established so recently, I have to admit to taking the existence of this hotline for granted; however, the fact is that the hotline is younger than I am (I’m twenty-five) and was only established thanks to the 1994 crime bill.

So, while it might make for a good debate line to be critical of Biden’s or Sanders’ support of the 1994 crime bill, the reality is somewhat complicated. Some aspects of it, such as the generally more punitive approach to crime as a result of the bill, have been quite controversial and even problematic. Other aspects, such as the creation of the National Domestic Violence Hotline, are quite important. Regardless, it’s important to recognize both the good and the bad in the 1994 crime bill (as well as Biden’s and Sanders’ support of it), because otherwise, we’d be doing an injustice to ourselves and to others when evaluating the platforms these candidates have on criminal justice.


[1] https://www.cnn.com/2019/05/15/politics/joe-biden-1994-crime-bill-incarceration-fact-check/index.html

[2] https://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-36020717

[3] https://www.ncjrs.gov/txtfiles/billfs.txt

[4] https://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-36020717

[5] Ibid.

[6] https://www.ncjrs.gov/txtfiles/billfs.txt. I should note that this provision of the bill expired in 2004: https://www.npr.org/2019/08/13/750656174/the-u-s-once-had-a-ban-on-assault-weapons-why-did-it-expire

[7] https://www.ncjrs.gov/txtfiles/billfs.txt

[8] https://time.com/5675029/violence-against-women-act-history-biden/

[9] https://www.vera.org/justice-in-focus-crime-bill-20/confronting-violence-against-women

The Gender Pay Gap and Sports

As I’m working on this post, I’m still reminiscing on the terrific performance that the United States Women’s Soccer Team put together at the 2019 Women’s World Cup. In spite of the challenges that teams like France, England, and the Netherlands posed, not to mention critics of their celebrations and some of their opinions, the U.S. Women still pulled it off!

There came a certain point, however, when the reminiscing turned to a different topic: the gender pay gap in sports. At times, it felt like the U.S. Women were fighting for more than winning the tournament—they were fighting for respect, and to be paid equally as compared to the men.

And, while I support the fight for the U.S. Women to be paid equally to the U.S. Men,[1] this conversation about massive gender pay gaps need to expand beyond soccer and to all sports.[2] Here’s the thing: while the focus has been on the glaring gender pay gap between the U.S. Men and the U.S. Women in soccer, this pay gap extends to nearly every other sport, with the possible exception of tennis.[3]

In terms of where the blame lies for this gap, I think that there is plenty of blame to go around:

  1. Some blame should go to a lack of advertisement and coverage of most women’s sports, as compared to men’s. There was, I thought, a good amount of advertisement for the Women’s World Cup and for women’s tennis. But outside of those two sports, where is the visibility of women’s sports in terms of TV advertising and coverage? I know—often, it wasn’t and isn’t visible. The visibility is just not comparable to the men right now. That, of course, affects revenue, because visibility leads to sponsorship opportunities, which leads to revenue.
  2. Some blame should go to us, the consumers, for just not caring as much about women’s athletics as we do about men’s athletics. Prize money and other money earned by athletes (through contracts, endorsements, etc.) is extremely dependent on the amount of revenue a sport generates. And the amount of revenue a sport generates depends on factors like ticket sales, merchandise sales, concession sales at games, and television ratings (which in turn helps determine the amount of money sports generate from advertisements, the amount of money sports generate from television deals, etc.). We as consumers simply haven’t invested in women’s sports at the level we often have with the men. It is no wonder, then, that the women usually get paid less than the men.
  3. In the absence of #1 and #2 (and oftentimes, even with the presence of points #1 and #2), blame goes to governing bodies for maintaining systemic gender inequality. The U.S. Women’s Soccer Team falls into this blame group. They get the coverage, and they get the revenue, yet they don’t get paid equally. This has actually happened in other women’s sports before—tennis, which seems to have taken great strides towards pay equality at least in its major tournaments, had a situation for decades where they got the exposure and the revenue, but not the equal pay.

No doubt, women have come a far way with sports in the last 25 years. Just in that time, there has been the establishment of a women’s basketball league, multiple iterations of a women’s soccer league, increased attention on the U.S. Women’s Soccer Team, and an increased exposure of women’s sports in general. However, we have a long way to go until we achieve true gender equality in pay, and true gender equality in sports in general. May we not stop the push for gender equality in sports. May we take follow the lead of the U.S. Women’s Soccer Team, who are four-time World Cup champions and advocates for gender equality.


[1] Honestly, I would even be supportive of the women being paid more than the men. The women have earned more revenue than the men, plus the women won the World Cup while the men didn’t even make their World Cup (losing to the likes of Trinidad and Tobago in the process).

[2] It should expand beyond sports, quite frankly. But for the purposes of this post, I am sticking to sports.

[3] Though if I’m wrong, please correct me.

I was at the parade celebrating the U.S. Women winning the World Cup. I therefore saw Megan Rapinoe and others celebrating, amid chants of “equal pay.”

Shared Post: I’m Pro-Choice Because I’m Pro-Life

Today, I wanted to share a blog post from a fellow blogger: Rev. Anne Russ over at Doubting Believer.

There are many opinions on the recently passed abortion law in Alabama, but I shared what Rev. Russ wrote because she expresses a number of “blind injustices” and “blindly just ideas” far more eloquently than I could: that anti-abortion does not mean pro-life, that the pro-life movement (whether it realizes it or not) has generally not supported measures that save lives and reduce abortions, and that there are a number of policies out there that can significantly reduce abortion without committing the injustice of controlling a woman’s body.

You can find her post here.

Shared Blog Post-#ButDon’tYouWantToGetBetter: Women, Doctors, and the Lack of Diagnosis

For years, there have been news stories and studies on how women struggle to be believed and taken seriously by many medical professionals.[1]

While those news stories and studies are important (do a search on Google for “women not listened to by doctors”, and you’ll find lots of material), it’s also important to hear from people like fellow blogger Carla at Things Carla Loves. By hearing from people like her, I hope we can further recognize the immense damage that’s done because women often struggle to be believed by many people in the medical profession.

Therefore, I’m sharing her post on the topic of women not being believed by doctors. I definitely recommend reading this post (and her blog in general), as her experiences are sadly similar to the experiences of many women I know when it comes to not being believed by medical professionals. Her post is especially appropriate considering the upcoming International Woman’s Day; the day’s theme, which focuses on on gender balance (called #BalanceforBetter), should definitely include balance with how seriously doctors take both male and female patients.

Post: “#ButDon’tYouWantToGetBetter: Women, Doctors, and the Lack of Diagnosis”