Debate Night 1: What We Saw & What We’re Watching For

Amanda Hunter | Jun 27, 2019


Last night was the first night there has ever been more than one woman on the presidential debate stage. A gender barrier was broken, but that doesn’t mean gender dynamics weren’t at play. The Barbara Lee Family Foundation has studied the obstacles and opportunities women face when running for office for the past 20 years, with a focus on executive office, and here’s what we noticed:

The first three speakers were women.

  • Moderator Savannah Guthrie asked Elizabeth Warren the first question, and Amy Klobuchar the second. It wasn’t that long ago that women candidates on stage were ignored by the moderators, and that women moderators were excluded from debates.

Women stayed above the fray.

  • Interrupting other candidates onstage is par for the course in presidential debates, but last night the women on stage mostly stayed above the fray. Not surprising: BLFF research shows that voters put women on an ethical pedestal, which is why women pay a higher price for “going negative” – despite the fact that all candidates must somehow demonstrate how they differ from their opponents.

Leading with qualifications is still essential for women candidates.

  • Men can simply release their resumes, and women have to prove over and over that they’re qualified and able to get results. And, because preparation is key for women, it’s expected that they come armed with specifics to back up their policies, and last night’s women candidates did not disappoint.

All experience— personal and political— matters.

  • Relatability has evolved. Women running today really have the opportunity to be 360-degree candidates by using the whole of their experiences to connect with voters. The women candidates on stage yesterday all spent time highlighting how their range of experiences relate to their policies and tie back to what they want to accomplish for voters.

We’ll be watching to see if these trends hold true for tonight’s debate! We’ll also be looking to see:

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