Center for American Progress

RELEASE: New CAP Report Examines Strategies for Breaking Down Barriers to Women’s Political Representation in America
Press Release

RELEASE: New CAP Report Examines Strategies for Breaking Down Barriers to Women’s Political Representation in America

Washington, D.C. — Powerful women are now front and center on the American political landscape and have never been more numerous as officeholders. Yet misperceptions and myths about their so-called electability persist, along with outdated ideas about the attitudes and voting behaviors of the American electorate.

In 2017, the Center for American Progress studied the factors that contribute to women’s underrepresentation in American politics—and, contrary to conventional wisdom, concluded that the main driver of the problem was not women’s lack of political ambition or broader sexism in the electorate but rather the structural factors of political gatekeeping that have long made it easier for white, wealthy men and the well-connected to run for office.

Now, a new report from CAP’s Women’s Initiative builds upon this work, showing that the way women candidates win is not by seeking to embody the attributes of traditional male candidates but by showing voters their authentic selves, meeting voters where they are, and prioritizing ballot access.

The report, based on a year of interviews with recently elected officials and former candidates, campaign professionals, academics, and consultants, presents an in-depth look at how and why false assumptions about electability actually hold women back. It argues that, at a time of extreme polarization, party is far more important a factor than gender—or race—in guiding Americans’ voting behavior. It reaffirms that the key to winning elections is turnout—and shows that a new generation of female candidates are mobilizing voters in creative and innovative ways.

Policy recommendations to increase women’s political representation that are offered in the report include measures to:

  • Guarantee voting access and ensure election transparency by expanding opportunities for voters to register, such as same-day registration and automatic voter registration, as well as by conducting elections with voter-verified paper ballot records.
  • Increase vigilance for open, safe, and transparent elections during the pandemic by expanding opportunities to register, vote early, and vote by mail, while preserving in-person polling locations; eliminating discriminatory signature verification rules and burdensome requirements for absentee ballots; and conducting robust education to ensure the electorate knows how, when, and where to vote.
  • Expand opportunities to vote by mail while preserving in-person polling locations.
  • Enact policies to open up opportunities on the ballot and get women in front of voters, including more public financing and expanding the use of campaign funds for child care expenses.

“The conversation about women’s electability misses the mark and dangerously warps the public perception of women candidates,” said Judith Warner, senior fellow with CAP’s Women’s Initiative. “When women run for office, they win. It’s that simple. They just need to be able to get in front of voters, and those voters need to be able to vote.”

Please click here to read “Redefining Electability: New Insights About Voters, ‘Good’ Candidates, and What It Takes To Win” by Judith Warner.

For more information or to speak with an expert, please contact Colin Seeberger at [email protected] or 202.741.6292.