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  • November 5, 2002
    A Study and New Book Examine the Possibility of a Female U.S. President
    By Kelli Whitlock

    ATHENS, Ohio - More women are on the ballot this year than ever before in elections for state governorships and seats in both houses of Congress, a sign that the nation is growing more comfortable with women in politics. But is the nation ready for a woman in the Oval Office? Almost, according to the authors of a new study on the subject.

    Researchers at Ohio University asked 878 college students ages 18-22 to evaluate the competencies of fictional white, African American and Latino male and female candidates on such issues as the economy, education, health care, Social Security and the environment. Participants rated all candidates as competent on these domestic issues, regardless of gender or race.

    Get out the Vote "These students represent the population that's going to be making these types of decisions. They're more likely to have the chance to vote for a female candidate for president," said Jerry Miller, an associate professor of interpersonal communications who conducted the study with Ann Gordon, an assistant professor of political science.

    Findings from the study will appear in the forthcoming book "Anticipating Madam President," which was co-edited by Gordon and Robert P. Watson, an adjunct professor of political science at Florida Atlantic University and editor of the journal White House Studies. The book will be published in December by Lynne Rienner Publishers of Colorado.

    "Most of the research in the book suggests people are warming up to the idea of a woman president," Gordon said.

    Participants in the study by Gordon and Miller were randomly assigned to one of 12 groups. Half the groups considered a newspaper article about a fictional member of Congress who was a likely candidate for president; the other half read an article about a Congressional member who was a potential candidate for the vice presidency.

    The articles characterized the candidate as a four-term member of Congress who was concerned with such issues as taxes, education, health care and international affairs, among others. The only difference between the articles was the gender and race of the candidates.

    Although all candidates were rated as similarly competent on domestic issues, female African American candidates were considered better able to handle civil rights issues than all other candidates. And all female candidates were considered more honest, hard working and moral than male candidates.

    On foreign affairs, candidates were seen as equally competent, regardless of race or gender. That is, on all issues but one: commander in chief of the nation's military forces.

    "Probably the single biggest obstacle to getting a woman elected president is the stereotype that a woman would not be an effective commander in chief," Gordon said. "The stereotypes normally associated with women candidates - honesty, caring, compassion - run counter to the stereotype we have of a commander in chief."

    Researchers compared responses from the overall study from participants who called themselves Republicans to those from participants who said they were Democrats. When asked if they felt a particular candidate was viable for the presidency, participants' responses were divided sharply along party lines by race and gender:

  • White male: 88.9 percent of Republicans; 84 percent of Democrats.
  • Black male: 59.4 percent of Republicans; 84 percent of Democrats
  • Latino male: 49.5 percent of Republicans; 61.5 percent of Democrats
  • White female: 45.2 percent of Republicans; 68.2 percent of Democrats
  • Black female: 47.6 percent of Republicans; 40 percent of Democrats
  • Latina female: 25.9 percent of Republicans; 40.7 percent of Democrats

    "We're beginning to chip away at the stereotypes that have kept women out of office, but we've got a long way to go before 'But she's a woman' doesn't matter anymore," Gordon said.

    Women have run for the nation's highest office before: Victoria Woodhull ran for the presidency in the late 1800s, before women were given the right to vote. Margaret Chase Smith, a U.S. senator from Maine, ran for the Republication nomination in 1964. And in 1972, Shirley Chisholm, a black New York congresswoman, sought the Democratic nomination. Elizabeth Dole and former U.S. Representative Patricia Schroeder both ran for their party's presidential nomination (Dole in 2000 and Schroeder in 1988).

    But so far, only one woman has come close to the Oval Office: Geraldine Ferraro, Walter Mondale's vice-presidential running mate in 1984.


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