The Balancing Act of Proving Likeability and Qualifications

Likeability is non-negotiable for women candidates: voters are willing to vote for a man they don’t like, as long as they think he’s qualified, but women don’t get that same treatment. On top of that, voters tend to assume male candidates are qualified, while women face extra hurdles in proving their qualifications. Because of this, women have to balance showcasing their likeability and qualifications, and those who are able to do both at the same time are killing two birds with one stone. Here are three ways that the women who ran for president earlier in 2020 highlighted their accomplishments while also proving their likeability:

Confidence is key.

The Barbara Lee Family Foundation’s research on likeability shows that confidence signals both likability and qualifications. This is especially helpful for women who want to highlight their accomplishments– a sense of pride and straightforwardness can reassure voters that a candidate is right for a position. Take Senator Elizabeth Warren, for example: at the October 15th Democratic presidential primary debate, Warren highlighted the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau as one of her major accomplishments. She called it an ambitious “Dream big, fight hard” project, and told the audience how she ignored the people trying to talk her into “something that the big corporations will be able to accept.” Warren’s confidence in her plan and her pride in its outcomes showcased her qualifications and likeability on the debate stage.

Make it personal.

Women candidates can relate their achievements back to personal stories, whether those are the candidate’s stories or stories about their constituents. Women who show that they are 360 degree candidates connect with voters by bringing expertise and personal experience to the table from all aspects of their lives.  What’s more, these stories can help voters remember women candidates’ accomplishments. While on the presidential campaign trail, Amy Klobuchar credited her political start to her confusing and scary experience as a new mother getting kicked out of the hospital after 24 hours. Klobuchar used that story to show off her first major political action: after her hospital experience, Klobuchar went to the Minnesota state capitol to get legislation passed to protect new mothers’ and babies’ rights. The law passed, and Klobuchar’s memorable story (and the results it got her) were forever in the minds of her future constituents.

Share the credit.

An effective formula for women candidates is to mix team and solo credit to balance likeability and qualifications. During the fourth Democratic Debate, Kamala Harris demonstrated this by giving examples of her solo accomplishments, such as serving as attorney general in the second-largest Department of Justice in the U.S., and also giving examples of her collaborations with others, such as serving on the Senate Intelligence Committee with Amy Klobuchar or creating a bill to end the money bail system with Rand Paul. It is essential for women candidates to demonstrate working with others as well as solo leadership in order to seem both likeably and accomplished.

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