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A new study released by the Barbara Lee Family Foundation found that women candidates have a better chance of overcoming social biases and winning if they emphasize their leadership qualifications. (Credit: Joe Shlabotnik, Flickr)
A new study released by the Barbara Lee Family Foundation found that women candidates have a better chance of overcoming social biases and winning if they emphasize their leadership qualifications. (Credit: Joe Shlabotnik, Flickr)

With a record number of women running for office in the U.S. in 2018, the big question has become: What do they need to do between now and Election Day to win?

A new study of voters released by the Barbara Lee Family Foundation, which works to advance women in politics, found that women have a better chance of overcoming social biases and winning if they emphasize their leadership qualifications and how they will govern differently.

“Voters will support a male candidate they do not like but who they think is qualified, but don’t apply the same standard to women,” the Barbara Lee Family Foundation said in its report. “Women also have to do more to prove they are qualified. For men, their qualification is assumed.”

The foundation surveyed 1,500 voters in August and September and asked them which words or phrases better describe a candidate. Male candidates scored higher than female candidates in the same party on “strong leadership,” “getting results” and “having confidence.”

Previous research from the foundation had also found that emphasizing qualifications is crucial for female candidates. It simply isn’t enough for them to explain their professional backgrounds and the potential they have to make history as an “outsider.”

In its latest study, the foundation identified five key roles that help a woman establish her qualifications in the minds of voters. They are community leaders, long-time activists, business owners who created jobs, public servants in a local office and figures who impacted a particular issue. If a woman focuses on one or more of these resume items, then she has a better chance of establishing herself as a “strong leader.”

Republican voters are particularly attracted to candidates who created jobs as a business leader, the study showed, a qualification that is twice as powerful as being a small-business owner. “Regardless of the party or race of the woman running, this accomplishment helps establish the candidate’s qualifications for Republican voters,” the foundation said.

Though some women struggle to be viewed as strong and confident, voters are attracted to outsiders right now, making it an “excellent time” for women to run for office, according to the report. “As Americans remain frustrated with the political status quo, being perceived as ‘different’ is an advantage for women.”

Women received higher scores than male candidates in their party for prized traits like: “political outsider,” “honest,” “knowledgeable,” “has a vision,” “stands up for what is right,” “will work across party lines,” “in touch with people,” “cares about people like you,” “will bring about change” and “will take on special interests.”

Learn about these two women business leaders in our Running Women project:

Sarah Riggs Amico: During the time she has been the executive chairperson of Jack Cooper Holdings Corp., the car haul logistics company has grown to have more than 3,500 employees, up from 120. The “purple” Democrat says that, as lieutenant governor, she will help increase wages and create jobs in Georgia, just as she did at her company.

Lena Epstein: Lena Epstein is the co-owner of Vesco Oil Corp., which has $175 million in revenue and employs over 200 people. A Republican, Epstein is running for Congress as a “job creator” who will help revitalize southeast Michigan’s economy.

Check out these two women with notable government credentials in our Running Women project:

Michelle Lujan Grisham: The congresswoman, chair of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, and former New Mexico’s secretary of health is now leveraging her national prominence to run for her state’s top executive office: governor.

Shantel Krebs: South Dakota’s secretary of state, former state representative and state senator, is making her second attempt to win her state’s sole congressional seat, this time with a longer resume in hand.

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