Why do female candidates continue to struggle in the US?

Ruarí Carberry

Elizabeth Warren listening to someone in the audience, with the American flag behind her

Elizabeth Warren exited the race for the Democratic party nomination last week. Aside from Tulsi Gabbard, whose chances to win the nomination are miniscule, Warren was the last woman with a credible chance in the race. Her decision to end her candidacy raises the question, why do women continue to struggle in the US presidential cycle?

Firstly, the underlying issue of sexism in politics is as prevalent in the context of the United States as it is worldwide. This was evidenced in the repeated questioning of Warren on the issue of “electability” and “likability”. Studies such as one carried out by the Barbara Lee Foundation found that women generally have to assert their credentials far more than men in the political arena.

While sexism certainly plays a part in female candidates struggling in US presidential politics, is that the only reason that women such as Hillary Clinton, Kamala Harris, and the aforementioned Warren haven’t managed to get over the line? I would argue that it isn’t.

Going back to the 2016 clash between Clinton and Donald Trump, one fact that leaps out is the fact that Clinton failed to capture the imagination of all women across the United States. Caitriona Perry intimates as much in her book ‘In America: Tales from Trump Country’.

“White women had the chance to vote for the first woman President and most of those who came out to vote didn’t take it.”

Why is this? I would argue that Clinton was a poor candidate anyway, due to her record. While Secretary of State, she backed regime-change wars and she has a history of backing damaging trade deals.

The midterm elections saw a host of female candidates win seats in the House and the Senate. A number of these women like Ilhan Omar, Rashida Tlaib and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez push progressive policy ideas. They have been criticised by Donald Trump and the Republican Party, as well as by their own party, in the form of Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic Speaker of the House of Representatives.

At the beginning of the primary cycle, twenty-nine people were vying for the nomination, six were female. It’s a mark of how far we have to travel that the primary was lauded for the diverse nature of its candidates.

The increase in women winning seats in both the House and the Senate last year will encourage young and progressive women to continue to increase their presence in US politics. Hopefully, within the next decade, the US may see a female president, unburdened by past controversy, who fields support from female and male voters alike. If this materialises they must be supported by their party colleagues too, and not held back by veiled criticism.

Until then, it would be fantastic to see Warren throw the weight of her support behind Sanders if only to build a unified progressive coalition that can be taken into this year’s battle with Donald Trump. Ultimately, this will help the eventual Democratic nominee, but it will help Warren too.

Ruairí Carberry

Image Credit: Flickr