Gender and the Law Prof Blog

Editor: Tracy A. Thomas
University of Akron School of Law

Tuesday, July 23, 2019

How Candidate "Likeability" is Gendered

Vox, "Likeability" Ratings in Recent New Hampshire Poll Show Just How Tough Female Candidates Have It

New Hampshire voters approve of the job Sen. Elizabeth Warren is doing; they just don’t like her all that much. Same goes for Sen. Kamala Harris.

 

Despite Harris’s recent bump in New Hampshire following her performance at the first Democratic debate, data in a recently released CNN/UNH Survey Center poll of likely New Hampshire voters found good favorability numbers for both Warren and Harris (67 percent for Warren, 54 percent for Harris). But when pollsters asked, “Which Democratic candidate do you think is most likable?” the numbers for both women were bleak.

 

Just 4 percent of likely voters polled said they found Warren “likable,” and 5 percent said the same about Harris. The candidates they liked better were all men: 20 percent found both Vice President Joe Biden and Sen. Bernie Sanders likable, while 18 percent found South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg likable. (Warren’s favorability rating was the same as Sanders’s and higher than either Biden’s or Buttigieg’s.)

 

Likability is a tricky, highly subjective political term. Pollsters used to get at the same question by asking, “Who is the candidate you’d rather grab a beer with?” But the question of who voters think is the most likable is difficult to pin down because different people have vastly different ideas of what it means, according to Kathleen Hall Jamieson, director of the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania.

 

“The construct is an unclear construct,” she told Vox. “We are making it relevant without asking why should it be. We don’t know what it is, anyway.”

 

One thing is clear: Likability applies differently to male and female candidates. But female candidates need to be liked in order to be elected, research has found.

 

“This likability dimension is a real barrier for women,” Democratic pollster Celinda Lake told Vox. “Voters are perfectly willing to vote for a man for executive office that they think is qualified that they don’t like, but they are not willing to vote for a woman they think is qualified that they don’t like.”

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/gender_law/2019/07/how-candidate-likeability-is-gendered.html

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