Women, ambition and politics

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Kamala Harris became the only third woman to participate in a debate for the vice-presidency on Wednesday evening. Like me, you’ve probably read or heard that analysts suggested that he moderate his ardor to avoid exuding too much aggression.

If for a long time, too, voters perceived male and female emotions differently, a recent Harvard University study points to a positive development for female candidates. It seems that a woman no longer has, or much less, to hide her ambition, her ardor or her indignation.

Hillary Clinton too ambitious?

The study * led by Ana Catalano Weeks (Columbia University) and Sparsha Saha (Harvard) began after Hillary Clinton was defeated at the hands of Donald Trump. Like many observers, they wondered if the Democrat had not been the victim of an unfavorable bias because she is an ambitious woman who was trying to obtain “the ultimate promotion”.

The day after Donald Trump’s victory, I was quick to point out that despite obvious qualities, Hillary Clinton was not a good candidate. She struggled to stand out, she polarized and her team had been negligent in underestimating the anger of voters, especially in some pivotal states.

The results presented by Weeks and Saha go in the same direction as my observation. Voters, both Republicans and Democrats (in a larger proportion), no longer “punish” a woman for her ambition, her personality, her ideas or her ability to manage family and career well. According to Sparsha Saha: “When women run for office, they win”. When women try to get elected, they do.

More and more women!

Certain past candidatures or even the current composition of the Congress tend to confirm the conclusions of the study. Candidates like Sarah Palin or Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez have never been criticized for being too ambitious.

The 116e Congress in history is the one with the strongest female representation. There are 105 women in the House and 26 in the Senate. For the 2020 electoral cycle, women represent 36% of all candidates for the House and 31% of those for the Senate. If we cannot talk about parity, progress is important and very real.

During Wednesday’s debate, I was both impressed by the composure and confidence of Mike Pence while being intrigued by the restraint of Kamala Harris. I felt like she refrained from confronting him more aggressively over lies to apply the strategists’ advice. In the end, maybe she didn’t need to respect their advice.

The results of Saha and Weeks’ study are good news for democracy. Although this is only the first such study, I cannot help but suggest wide dissemination.

Donald Trump could even be inspired by it, he who, Thursday, did not hesitate to qualify Kamala Harris as a “monster”.

* Study link: link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s11109-020-09636-z

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