Despite strong candidates, most don’t expect woman president

Source: Scripps Howard News Service
Date: October 31, 2002

Women candidates are looked upon as more honest, sincere, caring and moral than most politicians.

But only 21 percent of Americans believe it’s very likely that a woman president will be elected in their lifetime, according to a survey of 1,001 adults conducted by Scripps Howard News Service and Ohio University.

"It’s not surprising that people are somewhat cynical that this will ever happen," said Marie Wilson, president of the White House Project, a New York advocacy group promoting women for top political offices. "Most people haven’t had experience or exposure to women in top government jobs. But this is changing quickly."

A record 135 women are running for U.S. House and Senate seats this year, and an unprecedented number of female gubernatorial candidates are running strong campaigns. Female politicians are widely expected to do much better in Tuesday’s election than they did in 1992, the so-called "Year of the Woman."

But the poll found evidence that women in politics, like women in business, are likely to hit a glass ceiling.

Twenty-one percent of those surveyed said they think it’s very likely that a woman will be elected to the White House in their lifetime, while 33 percent said it’s somewhat likely and 45 percent said it is either somewhat or very unlikely. One percent was undecided on the question.

Women in general and older Americans tended to be more cynical on the odds that a female president will be elected.

Despite these doubts, women politicians score much higher on perceived character issues. Only 27 percent said they think the word "honest" describes most politicians "extremely well" or "quite well." Seventy-two percent said they believe women politicians can be described as honest.

Women were also much more likely to be thought to be qualified, sincere, hardworking, moral, caring and honest than are politicians as a group. Women running for federal offices this year are aware of these findings.

"There seems to be more acceptance among voters for women candidates these days," concluded Gloria Tristani, the Democratic candidate for Senate in New Mexico. "Studies have shown that people are more apt to trust a woman than a man. I’m not quite sure why."

There were also indications that some voters will give preference to a woman running for a congressional seat. The survey asked who the voter would support if a male and female candidate were equally qualified. Thirty-four percent said they believe the woman would better represent them while 26 percent said the man would be better.

The poll found that women and Democrats were more likely to show a preference for women candidates than men and Republicans. Nearly half of the people in the survey said they believe women politicians tend to be liberal while less than a quarter think they tend to be conservative.

"Once women get into office, they do have different issues than do men," said Gilda Morales of the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University in New Jersey. "They are more interested in women’s issues, in children's issues and, I hate to say it, domestic issues like health care and education."

The poll was conducted at the Scripps Survey Research Center at Ohio University. Residents of the United States were interviewed by telephone from Oct. 13-28 in a study funded by a grant from the Scripps Howard Foundation.

The poll has an overall 4 percentage point margin of error, although the margin increases when examining attitudes among smaller groups within the survey. The margin for women only, for example, is 6 percent.