The timeline below uses specific events and reports from the 2020 presidential campaign – starting with U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren’s entry into the race in December 2018 through the swearing in of Vice President Kamala Harris on January 20, 2020 – to illustrate how presidential politics remain influenced by gender and race, specifically in: how candidates navigate campaigns; how candidates are perceived, evaluated, and treated by voters, media, and opponents; and how voters make electoral decisions. Individual posts do not reflect all of the examples of gender, race, and intersectional dynamics at play in the 2020 race, but offer a selection that help to analyze points of both progress and persistent biases.
Users can utilize the tags listed at the top of the timeline to filter posts. Many posts are cross-tagged, including those that best illustrate intersectional dynamics at play in the presidential contest (which are tagged with both gender and race labels). In addition to text accompanying each post, analysis of how these forces interact is also provided in the introductory essay. To see all posts in order, click “all” on the tags list.
- Election Results
- Familial Roles
- Gender and Voting
- Gender Bias
- Gender Issues
- Gender Record
- Gendered Messages
- Gendered Presentation
- Male Privilege
- Media Coverage
- Race and Voting
- Race Issues
- Race Record
- Racial Bias
- Racial Presentation
- Racialized Messages
- Vice Presidency
- White Privilege
January 1, 2019 Politico Tweet Elicits Backlash on Warren Likability
How does Elizabeth Warren avoid a Clinton redux — written off as too unlikable before her campaign gets off the ground? https://t.co/E6zfTkzNYy
— POLITICO (@politico) January 1, 2019
Immediately after Warren’s announcement, Politico publishes an article detailing the gendered hurdles – including biased standards of likability – that she might face. Despite the nuance in the piece, a tweet from Politico reducing the analysis to a question of Warren’s likability elicits backlash and raises concerns that the 2020 cycle was launching with a tired example of gender bias against women candidates.2019
January 2, 2019 Warren Responds to Likability Concern
January 5, 2019 The New York Times Raises Electability Question for Women
Less than a week after the first woman entered the 2020 presidential campaign, The New York Times publishes a piece citing concerns over whether or not a woman could beat President Donald J. Trump.
January 16, 2019 Gillibrand Faces Likability Question on Day One
At her first live event to announce that she is exploring a presidential bid, the first question posed to Gillibrand by press is about her likability. A journalist says, “A lot of people see you as pretty likable,” and asks if she considered that a “selling point.”
January 21, 2019 Gillibrand reflects on white privilege at National Action Network
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, speaking Monday at the National Action Network's annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day event, tested some of the themes of her 2020 presidential campaign https://t.co/rQZdFvHARC
— POLITICO New York (@politicony) January 22, 2019
In a speech to the National Action Network, Gillibrand says, “It is wrong to ask men and women of color to bear these burdens every single day, the same fights over and over again,” adding, “White women like me must bear part of this burden and commit to amplifying your voices.”
January 26, 2019 Harris faces scrutiny for past relationship with Mayor Willie Brown
— Tomi Lahren (@TomiLahren) January 28, 2019
Former San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown, who dated Harris many years prior, publishes an op-ed in the San Francisco Chronicle titled “Sure, I dated Kamala Harris: So what?” Attention to this relationship, which occurred early in Harris’ career, fed into stereotypical tropes of women “sleeping their way to the top.” Conservative commentator Tomi Lahren levied this attack on Harris most overtly via Twitter. In contrast, Washington Post columnist Monica Hesse criticized these gendered attacks soon after Brown published his article.
January 28, 2019 Williamson Announces Candidacy for President
Author and advocate Marianne Williamson announces she will run for the Democratic nomination for president with “Turning Love into a Political Force” as her campaign theme.
February 6, 2019 Klobuchar criticized for treatment of congressional staff
In a series of articles from Huffington Post, Buzzfeed News, and The New York Times, U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) is accused of abuse and mistreatment of members of her U.S. Senate staff. The criticism comes before the official launch of her presidential campaign and yields persistent news attention and coverage through and beyond the launch. Some outlets – like Vox and Politico – raise questions, however, about the gendered nature of this coverage, questioning whether or not men have been or would be evaluated in the same way for similarly tough managerial styles.
February 12, 2019 Hirshman outlines “The Electability Trap” for women candidates
In an op-ed forThe Washington Post, Dr. Linda Hirshman outlines “the electability trap” that women presidential candidates face in 2020. She calls on readers to reject myths about women’s inability to win the presidential race: “Rather than making female candidates bear the burden of our worries, we should direct our energies elsewhere. …Ultimately, it’s up to individual voters to choose the best candidate, regardless of gender — and not let myths about electability shackle us.”
February 16, 2019 Hill rejects scrutiny of Harris’s Blackness
— Jemele Hill (@jemelehill) February 16, 2019
The Atlantic contributor Jemele Hill writes that “Kamala Harris’s Blackness is Not Up for Debate,” outlining examples of scrutiny of Harris’s racial identity and purity within the first few weeks of her presidential campaign. Hill argues, “Just like Obama, Harris has exposed narrow-minded views of blackness with her presidential run. Harris is a multiracial woman who was born in Oakland, went to high school in Montreal, and worshipped with both Hindus and Baptists. She’s a member of the Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority, and yet, by her account, knows how to make an incredible Bolognese and a mean pot of collard greens. If the criterion for running for president is being authentically American, people have to accept that this is what that looks like.” Later profiles of Harris throughout the 2020 election investigated the ways in which her racial identities were developed and expressed, including profiles in The Washington Post (“Kamala Harris grew up in a mostly white world. Then she went to a Black university in a Black city”) and the Los Angeles Times (“A political awakening: How Howard University shaped Kamala Harris’ identity”).
February 17, 2019 Gillibrand plays up motherhood in 2020 race
The Associated Press outlines the ways in which Gillibrand is using motherhood as a key part of candidate presentation and strategy in the 2020 presidential race. Gillibrand emphasized motherhood in her campaign announcement and invited reporters to her home for dinner with her family (including her school-aged sons). Gillibrand told the AP that she thinks voters see motherhood as a clear strength: “I think the country recognizes that a mother will go through fire for her children. If (a mother) needs to lift a car to save her child, she will find that superhuman strength at that exact moment she needs it. It’s the story of our country, it’s the story of women, it’s the story of who we are.” Democratic pollster Celinda Lake notes that women with young children have historically struggled while campaigning to combat concerns they can adequately meet expectations of being both a mother and candidate/officeholder. But, she adds, “things have really changed. For Gillibrand, it’s not just that ‘I’m a mom.’ It’s a metaphor. It’s a way of talking about the future, a way of talking about her orientation.” The AP article also notes how other 2020 women candidates embrace motherhood as an electoral asset instead of hurdle to overcome.
February 28, 2019 Politico asks whether Harris is too likable
After facing criticism for their coverage questioning Warren’s likability upon her campaign launch, Politico publishes an article questioning whether or not Harris is too likable. The piece, titled “Kamala Harris’ big question mark: She’s connecting with audiences — sometimes to a fault,” evidences the particular scrutiny of women’s likability and authenticity as well as the difficulty for women, in light of gender stereotypes and bias, in balancing likability with policy substance in campaign strategy.
March 1, 2019 AP-NORC analysis of public opinion data on whether women are perceived as emotionally suited for political leadership
The Associated Press and NORC analyzes data from the 2018 General Survey Survey to find that 84% of Americans believe women are just as suited emotionally for politics as men—an all-time high. More Republicans (17%) than Democrats (9%) are skeptical that women are equally emotionally suited for politics to men.
In a satirical column titled “Was Sen. Sherrod Brown Likable Enough To Be President Though?“, the Huffington Post asks U.S. senators to comment on whether or not Senator Sherrod Brown – a white man who had considered a 2020 presidential bid – is likable. The intent of the piece is to spotlight the gendered double standard that women candidates and officeholders face in proving they are both likable and qualified enough to serve in political office. Previous research from the Barbara Lee Family Foundation has found that while perceptions of women’s likability is tied to perceptions that she is qualified, men can be perceived as qualified but unlikable. This coverage is notable in that it is critical of this double standard instead of perpetuating it.
March 10, 2019 Inslee recognizes white male privilege in CNN interview
Gov. Jay Inslee: “I think that I have evinced a humility about being a straight white male that I have never experienced discrimination like so many do.” pic.twitter.com/LyjUzuNXKF
— The Hill (@thehill) March 11, 2019
During an appearance on CNN’s State of the Union, host Jake Tapper asks Governor Jay Inslee (D-WA), “Why are you, as a straight white male, the right person to lead the Democratic Party if there’s so much skepticism from Democrats in Iowa?” Inslee responds, “I think I have evinced a humility about being a straight white male that I have never experienced discrimination like so many do.” He adds, “I’ve never been pulled over as an African American teenager by an officer driving through a white neighborhood. I’ve never been a woman talked over in a meeting. So I approach this with humility.” This exchange provides both an example of how media asked about racial and gender privilege in ways dissimilar to any previous election in 2020 and how white male candidates were, unlike in past elections, forced to recognize and address their racial and gender identities – which are most commonly cites of privilege – as possible electoral disadvantages.
March 10, 2019 Gabbard addresses past anti-LGBTQ advocacy
At a CNN town hall, Gabbard is asked about her past anti-LGBTQ advocacy and describes how her military service changed her views on the issue. She is also asked to address other sites of criticism, including her meeting with Syrian President Bashar Assad and her refusal to call him a war criminal. These issues plagued Gabbard’s campaign and were the focus of much media coverage of her candidacy.
“Man, I’m just born to be in it.” Beto O’Rourke seemed to come from nowhere to the brink of a presidential candidacy—but he’s been on this journey for his whole life. O’Rourke spoke with Joe Hagan. Photographs by Annie Leibovitz. https://t.co/WhmQGZnbUg pic.twitter.com/a7DCoaZdtd
— VANITY FAIR (@VanityFair) March 13, 2019
The day before he officially announces his presidential bid, Vanity Fair publishes their April 2019 cover story of former U.S. Representative Beto O’Rourke (D-TX), in which he describes feeling “born to do it” in reference to a presidential run. In addition to that comment, which is featured on the cover, the fact that O’Rourke – as a young, white, male candidate with less political experience than many other candidates – was featured on the cover of a major news magazine raises questions about potential gender and racial bias in media coverage and perceptions of who is electable at the presidential level.
Beto tells a coffee shop crowd that he just talked with his wife, Amy. “She is raising, sometimes with my help,” their three kids. Then says he’s running for president for his kids, and theirs.
— Matt Viser (@mviser) March 14, 2019
While campaigning at a coffee shop, O’Rourke tells a crowd of his wife, Amy, “She is raising, sometimes with my help,” their three kids. The comment, which he viewed as a joke, elicits criticism by those noting that it was both reflective of O’Rourke’s gender privilege and inconsiderate of the causes and effects of deep gender inequities in caregiving. In response, O’Rourke quickly apologizes by saying, “My ham-handed attempt to try to highlight the fact that Amy has the lion’s share of the burden in our family – that she actually works but is the primary parent in our family, especially when I served in Congress, especially when I was on the campaign trail – should have also been a moment for me to acknowledge that that is far too often the case, not just in politics, but just in life in general. He added, “I will be much more thoughtful in the ways that I talk about my marriage.” The criticism of O’Rourke’s initial comment, as well as his response, suggests some progress in pushing presidential candidates to reflect on underlying gender inequities that have made it easier for men to run for office across levels at any age and regardless of their parental status. Those inequities were still evident, however, in the fact that multiple men – and only one woman – who ran for president in 2020 had school-aged children. Even more, U.S. Representatives Eric Swalwell (D-CA) and Seth Moulton (D-MA) launched their candidacies with infant children under age one.
March 20, 2019 FiveThirtyEight Evaluates Differences in Magnitude of Presidential Campaign Kickoff Coverage
Using the Internet Archive’s TV News Archive and the GDELT project’s Television Explorer, FiveThirtyEight looks at what percentage of coverage on CNN, MSNBC, and Fox News mentioned each of the Democratic candidates in the days before and after they announced their candidacy. They find that O’Rourke and Sanders saw the largest bumps in media coverage upon their presidential candidacy announcements, with Harris, Klobuchar, and Warren seeing more modest coverage bumps upon announcing their presidential bids. This snapshot does not prove gender bias, but suggests that gender and/or race might have shaped the degree to which these candidacies were covered as viable bids for the Democratic nomination.
April 3, 2019 Biden apologizes for making women uncomfortable
Social norms are changing. I understand that, and I’ve heard what these women are saying. Politics to me has always been about making connections, but I will be more mindful about respecting personal space in the future. That’s my responsibility and I will meet it. pic.twitter.com/Ya2mf5ODts
— Joe Biden (@JoeBiden) April 3, 2019
In a video posted to Twitter, former Vice President Joe Biden apologizes for making women uncomfortable with physical touches and kisses. His apology comes after a former Democratic political candidate – Lucy Flores – wrote an article for The Cut detailing an “awkward kiss” that Biden had given to the back of her head at a political event in 2014. She wrote, “The vice president of the United States of America had just touched me in an intimate way reserved for close friends, family, or romantic partners — and I felt powerless to do anything about it.” Biden had been subject to other criticism, and sometimes less serious mockery, for his close physical interactions with people he encountered as a politician, especially women. Flores’ accusation was followed up with more scathing columns about Biden’s behavior from feminist writers like Rebecca Traister and Jessica Valenti. In his apology, Biden accepts responsibility for his behavior and says he will “be more mindful about respecting personal space in the future.” The attention to Biden’s behavior was especially notable in the context of the #MeToo movement and reckoning over previously overlooked practices that reinforced and/or exploited gender inequities in power.
April 11, 2019 Manne calls out sexism at start of 2020 cycle
Dr. Kate Manne, author of Down Girl: The Logic of Misogyny, writes for Politico about the persistence of sexism in the 2020 presidential election, even in its earliest months. She offers an assessment of the electability doubts that women presidential candidates face, arguing, “Perhaps America isn’t ready because you’re one of the many who prefers male to female candidates, and who unconsciously reaches for excuses to rationalize your preference. This country will never be ready for a woman president, to our detriment, if this continues.” In an interview with Vox later in April 2019, Manne emphasizes, “Electability isn’t a static social fact; it’s a social fact we’re constructing. Part of what will make someone unelectable is people give up on them in a way that would be premature, rather than going to the mat for them.”
April 20, 2019 Media Questions if White Man is Best to Beat Trump
Democratic voters are torn over questions of diversity and electability ahead of 2020 https://t.co/N62nNZ8rPy
— The New York Times (@nytimes) April 20, 2019
Multiple news stories this week, including those from NPR and The New York Times, question whether or not a white man is the best potential opponent to President Donald Trump in election 2020. Astead W. Herndon and Matt Flegenheimer write for The New York Times, “Is a white man the best face for an increasingly diverse Democratic Party in 2020? And what’s the bigger gamble: to nominate a white man and risk disappointing some of the party’s base, or nominate a minority candidate or a woman who might struggle to carry predominantly white swing states like Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania that both Barack Obama and President Trump won?” These analyses grapple, perhaps for the first time in presidential history, with the idea that being a white man cannot be assumed to be an electoral advantage.
April 24, 2019 Storybench analysis of media coverage finds women candidate with more negative coverage
In an analysis of 130 articles between January and March 2019 from The Washington Post, The New York Times, The Huffington Post, CNN, and Fox News, Northeastern University’s Storybench finds that the percentage of positive words being used to describe women presidential candidates is significantly lower than the percentage of positive words used about the men who are running.
April 25, 2019 Biden Expresses Regret to Anita Hill and she Responds
The Biden campaign discloses a recent call between Biden and Anita Hill, the law professor who famously testified in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee in 1991 about Clarence Thomas’ (a then-nominee for the U.S. Supreme Court) sexual harassment of her and others in the workplace. Biden was chairman of the committee, where Hill was subject to both racism and sexism from the all-white, all-male panel of senators. Biden’s team reports that Biden and Hill “had a private discussion where he shared with her directly his regret for what she endured and his admiration for everything she has done to change the culture around sexual harassment in this country.” Hill tells The New York Times, “I cannot be satisfied by simply saying, ‘I’m sorry for what happened to you,’” adding, “I will be satisfied when I know that there is real change and real accountability and real purpose.” She adds that he needs to apologize to all of the witnesses, not only her. Biden’s behavior during the Thomas hearings raises concerns for some about his gender and race record.
April 29, 2019 Buttigieg addresses white male identity in Vogue feature
— Vogue Magazine (@voguemagazine) April 29, 2019
In a feature profile for Vogue magazine published online (and later in the print June 2019 issue), Buttigieg is asked what he’d say to those who argue that yet another white male candidate isn’t what Democrats need in this year of all years.” He responds, “I’m sensitive to that,” adding, “In the end, I think we just bring whatever identity we have to the table. Mine is of a young, gay, first-generation white veteran mayor.” The feature is also evidence of the prominent coverage Buttigieg received early in the Democratic primary season, yielding some criticism that a woman with his level of political experience and accomplishment would be less likely to receive the same type and magnitude of coverage.
Angela Wright-Shannon, who is often referenced as “the uncalled witness” at the 1991 confirmation hearings of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, writes an op-ed in The Washington Post to argue that there are more important things at stake than an apology from Biden about his role in the hearing. She adds, “I disagree with those who say only Biden is to blame for the way the hearing unfolded. More condemnable are Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa) and former senators Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) and Alan Simpson (R-Wyo.), who interrogated Hill and challenged her credibility.” This adds some cover for Biden and his campaign, who have to navigate criticism about his leadership – or lack thereof – during the Thomas hearings, especially in taking the accusations of sexual harassment against Thomas seriously and standing with the women who came forward to make them.
In a new Gallup survey from April 2019, 94% of Americans report that, if their party nominated a generally well-qualified person for president who happened to be a woman, they would vote for her. This is slightly higher than the 92% of Americans who reported the same thing to Gallup in 2015.
May 9, 2019 Time Magazine Profile of Warren Highlights Gender in Path to Candidacy and Candidate Evaluation
In a May 2019 profile of Warren for Time Magazine, she addresses concerns about her electability, saying, “I didn’t look in the mirror as a kid and think, Hey, there’s the next president of the United States. But I know why I’m here. I have ideas for how we bring systemic change to this country. And we’re running out of time.” This contrasts the Vanity Fair profile of O’Rourke, where he described being born to run for president. Time also highlights Warren’s emphasis on policy detail as standing out from her opponents. However, they reference the bind that women candidates have faced in proving they are qualified while remaining “relatable” or “likable” to voters. They write, “Many voters who like Warren worry about nominating a wonky, blond woman four years after another wonky blond woman lost to Trump.”
May 10, 2019 Harris writes about being “Momala”
Of all the titles I've ever had, Momala is my favorite.https://t.co/ZWNj4V4weu
— Kamala Harris (@KamalaHarris) May 10, 2019
On Mothers’ Day 2019, Harris writes a column for Elle about being “Momala,” a role she embraces in presenting herself as a presidential candidate. Harris centers her maternal role to two stepchildren and describes the dynamics of her blended family. In emphasizing this role, Harris meets stereotypical expectations that women are maternal, despite not having biological children of her own. At the same time, she challenges stereotypes of what motherhood looks like, as well as the idea that motherhood is a hurdle to overcome en route to political leadership.
May 15, 2019 Harris Responds to Running Mate Speculation
Harris addresses political discussions about her potential to be a vice presidential candidate to Joe Biden, saying, “I think Joe Biden would be a great running mate. As vice president, he’s shown he can do the job.” In this response, Harris challenges doubts about her own electability as a presidential candidate.
May 16, 2019 Harris Addresses Her Historic Candidacy
In an interview with The Atlantic, Harris addresses the historic nature of her candidacy for president. She says, “I don’t expect people to vote for me because I’m a woman. I don’t expect people to vote for me because I’m a person of color. I believe that people are going to elect me because they believe I am the best one for the job at this point in time.” When asked why she is not more explicit about the historic nature of her candidacy on the campaign trail, she replies, “There are certain self-evident truths,” indicating that she does not feel the need to highlight her race and gender in candidate self-presentation.
May 16, 2019 Harris Subject to Gendered Characterization
— Joan Walsh (@joanwalsh) May 16, 2019
In a profile for The Atlantic, Harris is referred to as “the Jan Brady of the 2020 race” in the web headline. While the author uses the reference in relation to Harris’ repetitive answers on the campaign trail (repeatedly saying she would want to have “a conversation” about an issue), using the Jan Brady reference also mines stereotypes about women’s intellectual inferiority and/or doubts about women’s competency to be political leaders.
May 16, 2019 Female Candidates Criticize New Abortion Laws
In light of new laws in states like Georgia and Alabama to restrict access to abortion, multiple women presidential candidates are vocal in opposition. Gillibrand, who has already distinguished her “woman plus” platform from her competitors, travels to Georgia to attend a rally to oppose new restrictions. The New York Times outlines the leadership of women candidates on taking on this issue on the presidential campaign trail.
Pointing out the double standard that women candidates often face when it comes to scrutiny over how they will navigate being both mothers and political candidates, Vox asks male presidential candidates about how they are navigating child care while campaigning. In doing so, the reporters not only highlight this double standard but also force men to confront questions that they have been less likely to field in their professional lives. In the story, Vox references an April 2019 interaction between Seth Moulton and a reporter for NBC 10 that made explicit this double standard. The NBC 10 reporter said, “If you were a woman, the first question I would be asking you is, how are you going to juggle having an infant at home and a presidential campaign?” By asking Moulton and other male candidates the question, Vox attempts to level the electoral playing field.
Kirsten Gillibrand’s failure to launchhttps://t.co/wdB1a2gmeF
— POLITICO (@politico) May 31, 2019
In an interview with Politico Magazine, Gillibrand is asked whether it is problematic that there are so many white men attracting media attention in the presidential race. She replies, “Yeah, I think it’s problematic. …. We have amazing women candidates, amazing candidates of color, and hopefully through this process we will lift our voices up and be heard.” She elaborates after being asked specifically about the Vanity Fair profile of O’Rourke, “The one thing that’s annoying to me is how many times reporters ask you about our male colleagues. Who cares? I’m running for president. I want to tell you what my vision is, why I’m running, and why I’m going to win. I think reporters like yourself, who are super smart and super careful, will always ask me what I think about the male colleagues. Are you asking the male colleagues what they think about us? Probably not.”
June 1, 2019 Klobuchar Addresses Gendered Standards
According to The New York Times, Klobuchar responds to a question about Buttigieg’s qualifications to be president relative to the women candidates by saying, “Could we be running with less experience than we had? I don’t think so. I don’t think people would take us seriously.” She continues to reference the differences in standards to which men and women candidates are held throughout her campaign.
June 14, 2019 Warren is “Running Like a Woman”
A GQ profile of Warren is titled, “Elizabeth Warren Is Running Like a Woman.” In it, author Mari Uyehara argues, “Warren has managed to kick-start her own momentum by grinding it out—out-policy-proposing, out-tweet-thread-explaining, and out-hustling every other contender in the race. In other words, she’s running like a woman.” This characterization points out the higher bar to which women are often held in campaigns, requiring them to work harder and prove more to earn the same result as their male counterparts.
June 17, 2019 Polling Reveals Gender Bias among Voters
We have a depressing and quite remarkable poll up this morning that shows how badly sexism among voters is hurting Warren, Harris and others. https://t.co/tPoL4a1kRj
— Sam Stein (@samstein) June 17, 2019
In a poll conducted by Ipsos for The Daily Beast, 20% of Democratic and independent men respondents say they agree with the sentiment that women are “less effective in politics than men.” When asked about their comfort level with a woman president, 74% of respondents report they are personally comfortable with a woman president, but only 33% believe their neighbors would be comfortable with a woman president. The survey also evaluates concerns about women’s electability; 39% of Democratic and independent respondents say they believe a female candidate would have a harder time running against Trump than a male candidate would. Relatedly, 76% of Democrats and 53% of independents say they believe gender and sexism play a role in Hillary Clinton’s defeat in 2016. These perceptions of a gender disadvantage could further fuel the perception of Biden as a “safe” Democratic nominee.
On June 26, NBC holds the first of two nights of Democratic presidential primary debates in Miami, Florida. Night one participants include: Cory Booker, Julián Castro, Bill DeBlasio, John Delaney, Tulsi Gabbard, Jay Inslee, Amy Klobuchar, Beto O’Rourke, Tim Ryan, and Elizabeth Warren. Full transcript available here.June 26/June 27, 2019 Democratic Debates
June 26, 2019 Kurtz Points Out Disruption of Gender Stereotypical Image on Presidential Debate Stage
Okay, Elizabeth Warren is standing between two very tall guys. Shouldn’t matter but looks odd
— HowardKurtz (@HowardKurtz) June 27, 2019
During the first night of the first Democratic presidential primary debates, Fox News’ Howard Kurtz tweets that Warren’s position “between two very tall guys…looks odd.” While he notes that this “shouldn’t matter,” his commentary both reflects the gendered expectations of presidential debate stages that have for so long been all-male and cues related stereotypical beliefs that height is a signal of strength and leadership. This assumption works to the disadvantage of women, who are – on average – shorter than men.
June 26, 2019 Deutsch Claims Warren Cannot Win, Claiming the Need to “Exude a Stronger Strength” to Beat Trump
In post-debate coverage on MSNBC, commentator Donny Deutsch argues that Warren will not be able to successfully challenge Donald Trump on a presidential debate stage. He explains, “I think she’s delightful, I think she’s wonderful, I’m a big fan, I just don’t think she has what it takes to beat this president the same way… an idealized version of Joe Biden [does].” When challenged by O’Donnell for the proof this is true, Deutsch explains, “I am understanding Donald Trump, the way he connects with this country, and the strength he exudes. We need to exude a stronger strength.” Deutsch’s comments reflect and perpetuate gender biases that assume masculinity is both a requirement for presidential success and a trait more easily assumed for men candidates. Prior to this commentary, Deutsch had already made controversial comments about Warren. In May, he claimed Warren didn’t “have the stuff” and implied that she came across as too strident to appeal to voters, recognizing but playing into a clearly gendered critique. He criticized Warren’s “tone and manner” and suggested Harris’ “force as a woman” was “much easier digestible for men and women.”
On June 27, NBC holds the second of two nights of Democratic presidential primary debates in Miami, Florida. Night two participants include: Michael Bennet, Joe Biden, Pete Buttigieg, Kirsten Gillibrand, Kamala Harris, John Hickenlooper, Bernie Sanders, Eric Swalwell, Marianne Williamson, and Andrew Yang. Full video available here. Full transcript available here.
Top searched #DemDebate2 candidates during the debate.
— GoogleTrends (@GoogleTrends) June 28, 2019
Williamson, who stands apart from her Democratic opponents for both her background and her rhetoric on the presidential debate stage, captures viewers’ attention to become the most Googled candidate of night two of the first Democratic presidential primary debates.
In an op-ed for The New York Times, columnist Bret Stephens criticizes Harris’ “scurrilous attack” on Biden on night two of the first Democratic presidential primary debates. He compares Harris to former President Barack Obama, writing that Obama had the ability to “[make] you feel comfortable no matter the color of your skin.” Harris, he argues in contrast, made “white Americans feel racially on trial.” Stephens’ critique centers white voters as those to which candidates must cater, while suggesting that Black candidates (and other candidates with personal experiences of racial discrimination) must choose between overtly addressing racial discrimination and making white voters comfortable enough to win their support. Stephens’ contrast between Obama and Harris might also reflect intersectional bias, in that Harris’ forceful and direct attack on Biden might be seen as especially (and inappropriately) “aggressive” when coming from a Black woman instead of a man.
In an analysis for The Atlantic, author Ashley Fetters finds that – on both nights of the first Democratic presidential primary debate – only male candidates mentioned their children or grandchildren. Fetters notes the distinct trickiness of this for women candidates, especially those with children still at home, due to stereotypical expectations of women as caregivers and, thus, concerns that running for office is incompatible with motherhood. Men, however, have typically benefited from playing the “dad card” as a way to both cue a “head of household” role and show a more personal side to the public. One notable debate moment that Fetters cites is when Swalwell joked that as a young father he’s often busy changing diapers, but that when he’s not changing diapers, he’s changing Washington. Fetters comments about the likely gendered double standard here, noting, “It’s hard to imagine a female presidential candidate making a joke about diapers, and easy to imagine there might be backlash if she did.”
A Data for Progress poll shows that Warren is the top choice among Democratic primary voters when respondents are told they could use a “magic wand” to allow their preferred candidate to bypass the general election and win presidential office. However, Biden is the top choice when voters are asked who they would choose in the current primary race, reflecting perceptions that Biden would be more electable in a general election presidential contest. This finding holds through January 2020. The same poll shows that Harris received the largest bump in polling from the first Democratic presidential primary debates.
July 8, 2019 Harris Addresses Identity Issues in AP Interview
In an interview with the Associated Press, Harris addresses the role that her race, gender, and intersectional identities play in her presidential bid. On being the most viable Black woman to seek a major party presidential nomination, Harris explains, “Sometimes it takes a while to get people to see that this is possible.” On electability concerns, she says, “There are always going to be doubters. That’s not new to me.” But when asked how to overcome those doubts, she answers, “You win.” Harris also explains the importance of representation in the presidential race: “When I made the decision to run, I fully appreciated that it will not be easy. But I know if I’m not on the stage, there’s a certain voice that will not be present on that stage. Knowing that there is a perspective, there is a life experience, there is a vision that must be heard and seen and present on that stage, and that I have an ability to do that.”
July 15, 2019 Harris Profiled by The New Yorker Magazine
A profile for The New Yorker Magazine analyzes her political past as well as her navigation of the presidential contest thus far. The profile cites Harris’ challenges, including being compared to men, being criticized by some progressives for her law enforcement record as attorney general, and being doubted due in part to the lack of Black and South Asian women who have held high-level political office before her. In response to those electability doubts, Harris says, “I didn’t listen.” Author Dana Goodyear also points out, “She tells her own story uneasily,” something that Harris agrees with in the interview. This remained something that challenged Harris for the duration of her presidential campaign, including how she would both navigate and present her gender and racial identities in campaigning.
July 15, 2019 Women Candidates Have Likability Deficit in CNN/UNH Poll
In a new poll for CNN/UNH, just 4% of likely voters in New Hampshire say they found Warren “likable” and 5% said the same about Harris. In contrast, 20% say Biden and Sanders are likable, while 18% say they view Buttigieg as likable. While only a sample of likely voters from one state, this poll reflects the potential gender bias in voter perceptions of candidate likability.
Klobuchar releases a campaign announcement video titled “Let’s Get to Work” that tells her personal and professional story. She explains that she is “running as a mom,” as well as a local county attorney and U.S. senator. She mentions her daughter’s health challenges at birth as motivating her attention to health care issues and emphasizes that she is “from the heartland.” The video also includes two slogans that Klobuchar focused on throughout the campaign — getting things done and leading from the heart.
July 22, 2019 Warren’s Selfie Strategy Deconstructed
The New York Times provides a look into “How to Get a Selfie with Elizabeth Warren in 8 Steps.” Beyond presenting the logistics of Warren’s unprecedented approach to voter contact, the piece illustrates a strategy Warren employs to both connect with voters and communicate traits like empathy, likability, and stamina. Women candidates often face heightened scrutiny on these measures, both those that are demanded more from women (empathy and likability) and those that are expected in masculinized political offices (stamina).
July 23, 2019 Harris’ Sister Plays Key Role in Presidential Campaign
The Washington Post profiles Maya Harris, Kamala Harris’ sister and campaign chairwoman. Maya Harris, who previously served as policy director on Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign, plays an important role in her sister’s presidential campaign. She encourages her sister to share more personal stories and open up to voters, and the Post profile assists in doing that through an interview with both sisters about their upbringing and where they are today.
An analysis of working-class white women voters by The Atlantic describes Trump’s support among this group, which holds in the 2020 presidential contest, but also possible areas of degradation in their loyalty to the sitting president. Democratic pollster Stan Greenberg outlines focus group findings from Wisconsin working-class voters, noting greater “intolerance” from women of Trump’s rhetoric and behaviors, including those that they perceived as racist. However, other polls reveal similarities with white working-class men in women’s concerns about growing levels of immigration, foreign influence, and what they perceive as anti-white discrimination.
On July 30, CNN holds the first of two nights of Democratic presidential primary debates in Detroit, Michigan. Night one participants include: Steve Bullock, Pete Buttigieg, John Delaney, John Hickenlooper, Amy Klobuchar, Beto O’Rourke, Tim Ryan, Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, and Marianne Williamson. Full transcript available here.July 30/July 31, 2019 Democratic Debates
Before and after: the #DemDebate in search.
— GoogleTrends (@GoogleTrends) July 31, 2019
Like she was in the first Democratic presidential debate, Williamson is the most Googled candidate on night one of the second Democratic presidential debates. While in Detroit, she calls out the mishandling of the Flint water crisis, and calls for reparations.
In an interview after night one of the second Democratic presidential debates, Williamson is asked by CNN’s Anderson Cooper which candidate she is supporting if she is unsuccessful in her presidential bid. She responds by reminding Cooper that she is a candidate for president: “But wait a minute, let’s talk about someone who is doing that — that person is me.” She cedes that she aligns most with Sanders and Warren. When pushed further, she says, “Why do you need anyone else when you got me?” In this exchange, Williamson confronts doubts about her electability that are inherent in the question and the fact that it is being asked just a couple months into the presidential campaign. This is similar to the experience of other women who have come before her in waging bids for presidential office.
On July 31, CNN holds the second of two nights of Democratic presidential primary debates in Detroit, Michigan. Night two participants include: Michael Bennet, Joe Biden, Cory Booker, Julián Castro, Bill De Blasio, Tulsi Gabbard, Kirsten Gillibrand, Kamala Harris, Jay Inslee, and Andrew Yang. Full transcript available here.
July 31, 2019 Gillibrand Attacks Biden on Past Positions on Child Care
On night two of the second Democratic presidential debates, Gillibrand cites an article that Biden wrote in 1981 criticizing a bill offering high-income families tax credits for day care. She quotes a line from the article to claim that Biden had argued that mothers working outside the house could lead to “deterioration of the family.” Biden denies that was his view and cites his own experience raising his sons as “a single father” after the death of his first wife. Gillibrand continues to push him to answer for the article, but Biden chooses to remind her of her support for him in previous political contests. Gillibrand’s attack, which was scrutinized by fact-checkers, is in line with her attempts to center gender equality and woman-centered policy issues in her presidential campaign.
Kamala did you fight for ideals or did you sleep your way to the top with Willie Brown?
— Tomi Lahren (@TomiLahren) August 1, 2019
In a tweet, conservative commentator Tomi Lahren asks if Harris slept her way to the top. The tweet upholds an oft-used trope against powerful women, insinuating that they are unable to advance to positions of power without relying on their sexual appeal. This attack also invokes the jezebel trope, which sexualizes Black women in ways to raise suspicion about their motives and morality. While Lahren later apologized for the tweet, she never removed it.
August 6, 2019 Warren Up in Support, but Not in Perceptions of Electability
A new Quinnipiac Poll finds that Warren is rising in presidential vote choice, but that Biden maintains a huge advantage when voters are asked which candidate has the best chance of beating President Trump in the general election; 49% of Democrats say Biden has the best change to beat Trump, with 12% saying the same about Sanders, 9% saying so for Warren, and 6% saying Harris has the best change to beat Trump. This poll also shows that Harris’ bump from the first presidential debate was short-lived.
August 13, 2019 Biden Maintains Electability Edge, but Warren Rising in Poll