NEW Research: Examining the Challenges and Opportunities Facing Women Lieutenant Governors

Amanda Hunter | Apr 27, 2023

The Barbara Lee Family Foundation has been examining the challenges and opportunities women face when running for office for over 20 years, with a special focus on the role of Governor. For our latest research memo, we decided to broaden that focus to look at one office that is closer to gender parity than the rest: the lieutenant governorship. Nearly 49 percent of current Lt. Governors in the US are women, and historically the role of lt. governor has often been a pipeline to governorship. Since 1980, more than 70 lt. governors have gone on to become governor – 12 of which were women. 


Our newly released research, Second in Command, finds that most voters believe that lieutenant governors are qualified to serve as governor, and that the office prepares women candidates to do so. However, the research also found that voters have a lack of awareness around the office of lieutenant governor, and they don’t have strong opinions about the role that lt. governors play. This creates a clear opportunity for women running or serving as lt. governors to carve out their own path, and define the role for themselves.


Luckily, Second in Command found there are several key actions women lt. governors, or candidates for the position, can take to connect with voters. First, voters want to know about the lt. governor’s accomplishments in office, not just how they’ve assisted the governor. Interestingly, across demographic subgroups, voters rate “supporting the governor” as the least or one of the least important qualities for a lt. governor. Instead, they want someone who is a problem solver, and they want to understand specifically what problems they’ve solved.

Building off of that, it’s far more important for voters to understand the lt. governor’s relationship with constituents rather than her relationship with the governor. It’s less important to voters that the governor and lt. governor are friends, or even if they like each other. What truly matters to voters is that the lt. governor listens to the people, and stands up for them, while being both ethical and accountable. That being said, the research also found that it behooves governors to support their women lt. governors with 63% of voters saying they have warm, favorable feelings about a governor who has a prominent and active woman lt. governor. This was particularly true for Democrats (75%), AAPI (70%), Black (68%), and Latinx (67%) voters. 

Most importantly, voters want to see their women lt. governors focusing on the issues that matter in their state, helping respond to a crisis, and listening to the people and bringing information back to the governor. At the end of the day, voters want to see their lt. governor creating two-way conversations, showing accountability, and actively getting things done.

While we may be nearing gender parity at the lieutenant governorship level, the fact remains that fewer than 1 in 5 US governors are women. However, we know from Second in Command that voters believe women lieutenant governors are qualified to serve as governor of their state. We hope that this new research helps women looking to run for governor embark on that journey, and for women serving in the position, we hope that it helps them be successful on the path that they’re already on, eventually becoming First in Command.


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