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.

Twelve Years of Bloomberg as Mayor: A New Yorker’s Perspective (Part Two)

As I announced last Monday, I will be doing a couple of posts on what it was like to have current presidential candidate Michael Bloomberg as mayor (and particularly justice-related topics from his time as mayor). This is the first of two such posts, as honestly, I have too much material to fit into one post.

This first post will focus on his treatment of other people while he was mayor, particularly his treatment of people of color, Muslims, women, and the poor. Buckle up, because this is going to be rough…

While he has apologized repeatedly for the existence of stop-and-frisk under his police force while he was mayor, I think it’s difficult to talk about his time as mayor without talking about that practice. The practice, which allowed police to stop someone temporarily to search, question, and detain someone, disproportionately targeted people of color. Consider the fact that, in the 2010 United States Census, African Americans made up under 23 percent of the total New York City population[1] but consistently accounted for over half of stops.[2] My family’s experiences match up with these statistics—while my brother, and I, and our white friends, never got stopped-and-frisked, my younger brother heard horror stories of friends of color in middle school (kids who were 11 or 12 years old) getting stopped-and-frisked by the New York Police Department, even though they (like nearly 90% of those stopped at that time) were doing nothing wrong! Mayor Bloomberg may’ve apologized for the practice,[3] but the apology does not undo the damage done to my brother’s friends who were stopped, among many others. The apology does not take away the fact that his police force basically treated black and brown kids like accused criminals.

Nor does the apology undo other racist practices under the Bloomberg administration. It does not undo the fact that Bloomberg’s education policies deepened segregation in New York City schools[4]—something he has not apologized for to my knowledge. He also has not apologized for the fact that his Department of Education created policies that denied educational opportunities to people who were thought to be black, including my brother![5] He has not apologized for the disinvestment in public housing in New York City[6]—relevant because the population of public housing in New York is overwhelmingly Black and Hispanic.[7] And he has not apologized for saying that the end of redlining, “a practice used by banks to discriminate against minority borrowers,” led to the 2008 economic crisis.[8]

People of color weren’t the only people the Bloomberg administration discriminated against. He had and still seems to have an Islamophobic streak, for Bloomberg’s New York Police Department also had extreme levels of surveillance of Muslims.[9] When he repeatedly says that his one regret is stop-and-frisk, it also means that he does not regret the discrimination of Muslims through this surveillance. That’s very telling.

For those of my readers interested in women’s issues and women’s rights, Bloomberg repeatedly struggled with sexism while he was mayor. Here’s an excerpt from an article at The Atlantic, a lot of which includes remarks he made while he was mayor:

There’s more: Bloomberg reportedly saying to a journalist and the journalist’s friend, as he gazed at a woman at a holiday party, “Look at the ass on her.” (He denied having made that comment.) Bloomberg, according to a top aide, seeing attractive women and reflexively remarking, “Nice tits.” Bloomberg, mocking Christine Quinn, the then-speaker of New York’s City Council, for going too long between hair colorings. (“The couple of days a week before I need to get my hair colored,” Quinn once said, “he’ll say, ‘Do you pay a lot to make your hair be two colors? Because now it’s three with the gray.’”) Bloomberg mocking Quinn again, she said, for failing to wear heels at public events. (“I was at a parade with him once and he said, ‘What are those?’ and I said, ‘They’re comfortable,’ and he said, ‘I never want to hear those words out of your mouth again.’”)[10]

The same article I just cited also went into the culture of sexism at his company, and it is no secret that Bloomberg faces numerous allegations of fostering a hostile work environment for women at his company[11] (something Senator Elizabeth Warren exposed in the recent debate). While my piece focuses on what it was like to have him as mayor, I don’t want people to forget about the workplace hostility against many women at Bloomberg, the company.

As for the poor, Mayor Bloomberg advocated for policies that hurt the poor. He argued for a tax on sugary soft drinks, which would have disproportionately affected the poor. He defended the proposed tax, even though he acknowledged that the tax would disproportionately hurt the poor![12] That, along with a lack of investment in public housing (which I previously mentioned) and the increasing unaffordability of the city while he was mayor,[13] show that he was not a friend of the poor.

There is probably even more that I’m missing here, but you probably get the point by now: unless you are white, somewhat wealthy, male, and not Muslim, Mayor Bloomberg was not an advocate for you.

And yet, I have even more injustices to say about Bloomberg as mayor even beyond his treatment of others. To be continued…


[1] https://www1.nyc.gov/assets/planning/download/pdf/planning-level/nyc-population/census2010/t_pl_p3_nyc.pdf

[2] https://www.nyclu.org/en/stop-and-frisk-data. Also, for those who deny the existence of white privilege, consider the fact that whites make up a third of New York’s population but only about 10% of stops.

[3] https://www.cnn.com/2019/11/17/politics/michael-bloomberg-stop-and-frisk-apology/index.html

[4] https://brooklyneagle.com/articles/2019/11/25/michael-bloomberg-is-running-for-president-what-you-should-know-about-the-billionaires-education-record-in-new-york-city/

[5] My brother is white, like me, but the education system in New York thought my brother was black. It’s a long story. Read this old post of mine to view the story: https://blindinjusticeblog.com/2018/04/24/institutional-racism-series-how-it-affected-where-i-went-to-school/

[6] https://www.cssny.org/news/entry/a-marshall-plan-for-nycha

[7] Even though this statistic was from 2017, a few years after Bloomberg left office, from my understanding, these statistics are also a reflection of what the demographics were like when Bloomberg was mayor: https://furmancenter.org/files/NYCHA_Diversity_Brief_Final-04-30-2019.pdf

[8] https://apnews.com/8cbb1fafbb4faf01e8d9571363979501

[9] https://www.cnn.com/2012/02/21/us/new-york-muslim-surveillance/index.html

[10] https://www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2018/09/mike-bloomberg-comments-women-metoo/570448/

[11] https://www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2018/09/mike-bloomberg-comments-women-metoo/570448/

[12]https://www.realclearpolitics.com/articles/2019/12/05/michael_bloomberg_tax_the_poor_for_their_own_good_141890.html

[13] https://www.wnyc.org/story/304422-new-york-remade-city-more-desirable-ever-also-too-expensive-many/