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A Break-Through For Women in Politics:
Scholar Sees 2002 As A Turning Point

Date: Oct. 25, 2002
By: Marianne Kunnen-Jones
Phone: (513) 556-1826
Archive: Reearch News

Judith TrentThe election year of 1992 was deemed "The Year of the Woman," but a University of Cincinnati political researcher who has recently interviewed female candidates suggests that 2002 deserves that title even more.

The researcher, UC political communication analyst Judith Trent, also suggests that women politicos have reached a level of experience that will allow them to be more frequent contenders for major office for the foreseeable future.

A record-tying 10 women have won their major parties' primaries to run for governor this November. In Hawaii, two female candidates are running against each other for the state's top executive post. Currently five women serve as governor. Given that most of our recent presidents have been former governors, this top state position serves as an important measure of women's success in politics as well as a stepping stone, says Trent, who is a professor of communication in the McMicken College of Arts and Sciences. "It's the CEO of the state," she says. "These have always been the most difficult offices for women to win. It's different from running for Senate or the House of Representatives."

I think this election year is one of those that will go down in history for females in politics," she says.

Also on a national level, there are 11 women running in nine states for the U.S. Senate and 124 women are on the ballot for the U.S. House of Representatives.

What's going on, suggests Trent, is that women are finally working their way up the ladder in political office. "It's been hard to get the nomination of a political party for governor," she says. "Parties have usually considered women unlikely to win. But that has changed. In states all over the country, it's becoming more difficult to argue that women aren't ready."

Trent bases that conclusion on her recent research of female politicians. She and her former student, Cady Short-Thompson, associate professor of communication at Northern Kentucky University, interviewed 10 women who currently hold elected office or have formerly held office. Their research will be published in 2003 in a book, "Women Campaigning for Political Office: Communication Concepts and Issues," to be published by the Louisiana State University Press. Five key themes that emerged from the interviews are:

  1. There is still a big power imbalance when it comes to gender and politics. While there are more women in political office than ever, they are by and large, still not holding their proportional share of the power structure.
  2. There is neither much precedent nor many models for women politicians to follow. "Voters are not quite sure what they want from women officer holders. For example, we asked Jane Swift, the Acting Governor of Massachusetts, about this, and she said it wasn't just that the media beat up on her, it was that she was first and people didn't know what to think about what the media wrote about her. It's difficult to know how people will react when you're the first."
  3. Women still believe that it is more difficult for a woman to run than a man, although they believe it is getting easier. Nine of the 10 women interviewed said they find fund-raising difficult. "A lot of males also do not like asking for money, but for women it seems to be even more distasteful," says Trent.
  4. Women are beginning to gain the experience that is needed before they set sights on a state or congressional office.
  5. There are still some behavioral differences between male and female candidates when it comes to campaigning. "It used to be we would say that women have to campaign more like a man," Trent says. "But these candidates are saying that is not true." Women no longer necessarily adopt the same campaign communication practices as male contenders, Trent and Short-Thompson learned. They feel free to use those strategies beneficial to them without considering whether or not it is "male" or "female" oriented. Women cannot just adopt the same practices as male contenders, Trent learned. Negative advertising, for example, if used by a women candidate against an opponent, has a tendency to have more of a negative impact on her.

Women interviewed were:

  • Jane Swift, acting governor (Massachusetts)
  • Jennifer Granholm, current attorney general and Democratic candidate for governor (Michigan)
  • Carrie Meek, member of the U.S. House of Representatives (Miami, Fla.)
  • Shelley More Capito, member of the U.S. House of Representatives (Charleston, West. Va.)
  • Loretta Sanchez, member of the U.S. House of Representatives (Orange County, Calif.)
  • Blanche Lincoln, U.S. Senator (Arkansas)
  • Susan Collins, U.S. Senator (Maine)
  • Sally Southard, former local office holder in Oxford, Ohio
  • Alicia Reece, Cincinnati vice mayor
  • Katie Stine, Kentucky Commonwealth Senator from Ft. Thomas

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