Ask a Feminist: A Conversation with Susan J. Carroll on Gender and Electoral Politics
Susan J. Carroll and Suzanna Danuta Walters
For this edition of Ask a Feminist, we turn to Susan J. Carroll—eminent political scientist and long-time advocate of women’s political participation—to address issues around gender and electoral politics. Her expertise and experience is needed now more than ever, as we navigate an increasingly fraught political season and the prospect of our first woman president.
What follows is an edited transcript of a conversation held over Skype on March 29, 2016.
Listen to the conversation:
Suzanna Walters (SW): I’m so glad that you could do this. I really appreciate it. “Ask a Feminist” is one of the new initiatives we’re doing at Signs to try to reach out more broadly—to get folks engaged with the journal, get new audiences, and raise broader political issues.
Susan Carroll (SC): I think it's great that you're doing this; I really love the concept and I’m happy to participate.
SW: Well, thank you. So let's jump right in. I thought what would be the best is if we could have a discussion that moves from the general to the more particular.
SW: So I’ll ask you some more general questions and then move into what I know we're both going to want to get into, which is what's going on right now especially in relation to Hillary Clinton. But one of the questions that has really occupied your work, and I think has occupied a lot of us who are thinking about this, is the question of why it has taken so long to have a viable woman candidate for president and what you think the main impediments to this might have been. Is it only a kind of misogyny and sexism? Is it pipeline issues in terms of women and government? Are there double standards? What are the constituent factors? Every time I think about it, I still can’t believe it’s taken this long, and yet it has. So how do you understand that?
SC: Well, I think it's a little bit of many different things. I think all the things you mentioned definitely contribute. The main factor is probably that we've just had so few women governors and senators, and virtually all of our presidents—certainly all of our recent presidents—have come from the ranks of governors and senators. Even today we only have six women governors and twenty women senators. And for the senators, that number reflects a substantial recent increase. So there aren't many women to choose from when you look at it from that perspective; it really is a pipeline issue. We've got to get more women into office at all levels. We particularly need more women in executive positions at the state level and in the US Senate and House. The pipeline is definitely a problem, but what lies behind the pipeline problem are all the other things that you mentioned. Certainly, if you watched what Hillary Clinton went through in 2008 …
SC: I think most women would be reluctant to put themselves forward. It really takes an amazing person to be able to withstand that kind of public scrutiny, not just of yourself, but of your family and those close to you. I think that’s a major reservation for a lot of people, for women in particular but also for people in general: that things will be dragged up, things that you did or statements you made when you were twenty years old, for example. You have to have a really tough skin.
SW: But why would you imagine that one’s past being dredged up and being interrogated by the media would affect women more?
SC: I don't know if it affects women personally more. I think there are a lot of women that could withstand it, but women are still more relational even in the way they make these decisions to run for office. In some of the research that I've done with a colleague at the Center for American Women and Politics, Kira Sanbonmatsu, we have found that women are more relational in the way they make their decisions to run for office. They’re more likely to need encouragement, they don't necessarily run until other people come to them and encourage them to do so; as we always say at the center, women don't get up in the morning, as many men do, look in the mirror and say “I think I see the next governor of the state.” That just doesn't happen very often with women. And they also make those decisions very much in the context of, you know, their family. Women are older when they run for office. They wait until their children are grown. They virtually never run for office unless their spouse or partner, if they have one, is fully supportive. You find more variation among men. I'm not saying that these aren't factors for men as well. Increasingly, as women have come into politics, men have started paying attention to and at least started talking about family considerations in the way they make decisions. But I think it's the scrutiny of the other people in their lives that women worry even more about.
Women often want to wait to run for office until they are at a point in their lives where their family responsibilities are largely over and they have more independence. As I’ve often said, maybe we should be trying to recruit women into politics as a second or third career instead of just trying to go after young women. Maybe that is the point when most women are able to think about and do it. But of course we need women of all ages running for office.
And then there are other barriers out there. There are financial barriers: the issue of how expensive it is to run for most levels of office. There is enormous variation across the country, but certainly high-level offices are very expensive, and most women don't like the idea of fundraising. There is research that shows that women who are running for Congress are able to raise just as much money as men do, and largely that's because, on the Democratic side, of the equalizing effect of EMILY’s List, which is a PAC [political action committee] that funds pro-choice Democratic women and has really leveled the playing field for Democratic women at the congressional level when it comes to fundraising. But at other levels of office it is less clear that women receive anything close to that kind of support, and women claim that it is harder for them to raise money, possibly because they more often raise it through smaller donations. Women are less likely to write big checks than men, and women often rely more on other women as potential donors than men do. So they may end up raising the same amount of money in the end, but they may have to put more effort into it, more of their campaign staff’s effort and energy. Fundraising is at least perceived by women out there as a major obstacle. I think those are some of the main things.
I think that what they don't worry about are the voters. There is good social science evidence that voters are not the main problem for women candidates, even though there are voters out there who wouldn't vote for a women candidate, all things being equal.
SW: Right. Let me stay on this for a minute because I think you’re absolutely right that the pipeline issue is clearly critical all the way down the line, and I wonder what you might see as some of the best practices that have been used to encourage more and more women to get into that pipeline so that we see women vying for office at higher levels. What are some of the models out there, besides something like EMILY’s List, which has been so enormously successful? What else has been out there that has tried to rectify this pipeline problem?
SC: Well, I’ll do a little self-promotion here for the Center for American Women and Politics. We have a couple of programs that are very much aimed at this in different ways. One of them is something we call Ready to Run, which is basically campaign training for women candidates; it's a program we started here in New Jersey. We do a general program for all women, but we also do very specialized portions of this program for Asian American women, Latinas, and African American women, where women from those communities really design their own programs because they are in different places with respect to their politicization and what they perceive as being needed. We run this program every year, and we have now worked with partners to establish similar programs in almost twenty states around the country. Ready to Run a networking opportunity for political women and provides support and encouragement for women to run for office, which I think is absolutely critical and the research suggests that as well.
Another program of the Center for American Women and Politics—which we’ve also spread to many other states by partnering with other institutions to do similar programs—is called New Leadership, and it’s aimed at college-age women. We bring women from different campuses in the state together for about six days in the summer and expose them to political women as role models, not just political women who are office holders but also activists and public policy advocates, to try and get them really interested in becoming active in political life in whichever way they choose.
SC: And those college-age women may not run for office right away or even ultimately—maybe their lives are a little crowded or too busy at the moment to pursue it—but it does politicize them in a way so that further down the road they do get involved. So those are a couple of examples. It's a long-term project. It's not something that’s going to happen overnight.
SW: I was just going to comment on that because it's always striking to me when you look at the history of US feminism and some of the enormous changes it’s made in all kinds of arenas of social life, and sexual life, and intimate life and family life, but when it comes to electoral politics, the numbers seem so tiny and so incremental. I wonder what you think are the long-term prospects for shifting that. Because it does seem that, for whatever reason, the area of women in public office remains a recalcitrant holdout, in terms of sheer numbers, and certainly comparatively internationally. So how do you understand the difference in the ways feminism has impacted other areas of life and yet not impacted electoral politics in a similar way?
SC: Well, I think our political system has a lot to do with it in the sense that the Founding Fathers designed a political system that was biased against rapid change or insurgency. So we have a two party system, while most other countries have multiparty systems; we have a first-past-the-post system. There are things built in to our political system that make turnover more difficult. There aren't as many political opportunities. The turnover is particularly slow for Congress: people get into Congress and you literally see them getting reelected and reelected and reelected. A lot of that has to do with the redistricting process, which happens after every US census, every ten years, and has led to gridlock in Congress. It's controlled by the states—it's a political process and each state does it differently so there is not a centralized way of doing it. It's highly politicized in most states, and the party that is in control, which at this point in the majority of state legislatures is the Republican Party, tends to use that system in ways to benefit their party and create a lot of safe districts for members of their party, and that’s actually happened on both sides. So now you have most members of Congress from districts where they really don't face serious electoral competition, and if they do it's in the primaries. What Republicans are now upset about and worried about, more than facing Democratic opponents, is something called “being primaried”: they're worried about challenges from people on the right who will come into their primary because their districts are so conservative. This has been a real problem for Republican women, by the way, and is one reason why the number of Republican women has been basically flatlining in state legislatures and in Congress: there is this problem of someone coming in from the right to challenge women incumbents. Historically, if you go back to seventies and eighties, it was almost an equal number of Democratic and Republican women serving in Congress, but that’s no longer the case—it’s two to one Democrats now. Part of the problem is that we have lost a lot of moderate Republican women because the districts have been created to be so conservative, and a lot of the moderate Republican women have been squeezed out.
So when we look at the problem of women not increasing in numbers or not increasing very quickly, there are really two trend lines. Unlike for Republican women, for Democratic women the trajectory has continued to go upward, although slowly, and actually a lot of that growth, especially at the congressional level, has to do with the election of women of color, black women in particular. Generally, there has been an increase in the number of women of color in office, and a sizable proportion of the increase in the Democratic numbers is really due to women of color.
SW: One thing that is obviously a part of that, I would think, is that the phenomenon of the moderate Republican is like the dinosaur at this point. There really is almost no such thing as what used to be known as the Rockefeller Republican anymore. It just has become a party of the Far Right, and of course this election season has seen that come to full fruition.
SC: That’s very true.
SW: I would love to now get a bit into the current situation. Given all of this, and given the delay in real transformative growth of women in public office at all levels, what do you think, in the broadest sense, would be the impact, both nationally and internationally, of having a female president on American politics and culture? Given this long history of not only not having a woman president but also not having anywhere near equal numbers of women in any realm of public office, what do you think would be the key effects of an election of, say, Hillary Clinton at this point?
SC: Well in terms of the world, I think it would be a signal that the United States has finally come into the twenty-first century. It would mean that we have finally caught up with so many other countries in the world that have had women heads of state. It's not an uncommon thing worldwide to have a woman head of state, and we have really lagged behind a lot of other countries, even in terms of our national legislature. The Inter-Parliamentary Union puts out a list comparing the United States to other countries and there are more than one hundred countries ahead of us in terms of the representation of women in national legislatures. Because we are far behind, the election of Hillary Clinton as president would be a sign that we are finally joining the rest of the world in terms of women in top positions in our government.
In terms of the United States, her election would really help to normalize the idea of having women in high-level political positions. I think it's very similar to what the election of Barack Obama did in terms of normalizing the idea of having African Americans or people of color run for top-level offices. We're certainly not in a postracial society—far from it—and there are certainly still enormous barriers out there for people of color seeking elective office. But it was interesting to me that when Ben Carson ran for the Republican nomination this year, virtually no one commented on his race, and he had quite a lot of support, a surprising amount of support from a pretty conservative base, so I think Barack Obama has had an important impact. It's not jarring, it's not shocking to see a black person running for a top-level office. I believe having a woman run would do a similar kind of thing. It would no longer be anything remarkable, and I think that’s where we want to get to—to have women run for top-level offices. I think the election of Clinton also would very much open doors for women at other levels. As I mentioned earlier, we only have six women governors; executive office has been very tough for women. People are more open to electing women as representatives than as executives, so you see a greater representation of women in legislative positions than in executive positions. We have only had thirty-seven women governors in the entire history of our country. I mean, we have fifty states and yet we’ve only had thirty-seven female governors! And in cities with over 30,000 people, fewer than one in five mayors is a woman. There are still people in this country who have not had the opportunity to vote for a woman for high levels of office, whether it be Congress or the presidency. Once more women run for office, then the idea of women holding top political leadership positions becomes more common, then it becomes more normal. The election of Hillary Clinton, I think, would pave the way, although the first woman becomes the model that all other women will be judged by, so if she is a disaster as president it could cause a problem for other women. But assuming that she proves to be a competent president, I think it opens the door and lets more women through. That’s what we have seen in other arenas in society.
SW: Well, I want to follow up on that because, of course, I agree with that on an intuitive and symbolic level, but one of the things I am wondering is if you have found in your research any real data or evidence that having women in these positions of political power has an impact, not just on women and girls feeling an ability to enter into public office and to compete for that but more generally on women and girls’ sense of well-being, life chances, and so on.
SC: That’s just such a hard thing to answer. Even just trying to research if it affects aspirations or the way girls see the world is difficult. And then to see if it really makes a difference, that is difficult as well. You can look at public policy—you can look at something like Title IX, for example, which women in Congress in the 1970s were instrumental in passing. You can certainly point to pieces of legislation where women’s and girls’ lives have changed because of what women in office have done. But systematic research that would show changes on a broader scale is—it’s hard to imagine how even to design it.
SW: I know. It’s an interesting question because of course we all believe that. We believe that seeing women as role models and as competent, as breaking glass ceilings or however you want to describe it, does actually change everyday life in some structural sense for women and girls. But it is hard to think of how one actually could measure that or quantify it in some way.
SC: Well, we’ve certainly done research at the Center for American Women and Politics—and other scholars have as well—that looks at whether women who are in office have more of a commitment to certain kinds of policy issues, whether they’re more concerned or whether they give more priority to different kinds of issues, whether they cosponsor different kinds of legislation. And certainly, there’s evidence that they do, that they’re more attentive to the impact of policy generally on women and families, and that they’re more likely to think about how women’s and children’s lives will be affected by legislation. There’s evidence that they give greater priority not only to the issues that we think of as part of the feminist agenda but also to more traditional issues associated with women, like health care and education. So there’s certainly research that suggests that women officeholders have that kind of commitment. When you talk with women on the right and women on the left, though, the way they pursue those commitments is somewhat different. For instance, take childcare: Republican women would be more in favor of tax cuts; Democratic women would be more in favor of government provision or a more direct government role in provision. So women might differ in their strategies, but nevertheless, the priorities tend to be there.
SW: Let’s turn to the elephant in the room here, which, of course, is Hillary.
SC: Well, she’s the donkey in the room, actually. [laughter]
SW: The donkey in the room, right. Let me start with the biggest question, which is the outsized demonization of Hillary. She has certainly been demonized for a long time on the right, and if she is the nominee, of course, we can imagine what it’s going to look like; we’ve seen some of it already. But it also is appearing, in some quite troubling ways, on the left, I think, in ways that we hadn’t quite anticipated or seen in the past. Misogyny and double standards are nothing new. But the kind of over-the-top demonization of this particular candidate begs for some kind of explanation. It seems so out of whack with any representation of her as a living, breathing human being and with her own history. How do you understand the outsized level of the demonization of Hillary Clinton?
SC: There are a number of contributing factors. One is that she’s been in public life for thirty-five years, so there have been a lot of opportunities for people to go after her. Her husband has also been president, so there have been a lot of opportunities for them to go after him, and she gets held accountable for his actions, in a way that I find problematic. The Right certainly went after the Clintons while he was president in a very aggressive way. She didn’t conform to the standards for the First Lady at the time, at least initially. Hillary talked about how she could’ve stayed home and baked cookies, but instead, she pursued a profession—that didn’t go over well. She headed up Bill Clinton’s task force on health care, which she talks about now. That really didn’t go over well with the Right. They came after her pretty viciously on that. They held her responsible for Vince Foster’s suicide—there was all this stuff about how she was having an affair with Vince Foster. They pointed to her as being somehow responsible for the tragedy of his death. It was just a lot of stuff like that.
So it’s had many years to fester. The media also seems not to like Hillary Clinton very much in general, and some of that, I think, is that she’s not been as accessible as they would like her to be. And again, I think that a lot of that is tied to the things she’s had to go through over time and the way they’ve played out in the media. She’s just become more guarded—certainly more guarded than Donald Trump. She gets pretty rough treatment in the media, at times. I think the way she’s been treated is really a sign that sexism is far from eradicated in this country. I mean, she is the first woman to run for this level of office, so we don’t really know whether, if she were another woman with very different characteristics, we would see different dynamics or whether that woman would be treated just as harshly in some ways as Hillary Clinton has been treated. I know that back when she first ran in 2008, I was actually stunned by the level of sexism directed at her.
SW: So was I, I remember it well.
SC: I was unprepared for it in a way. I thought that she was so well known and that we were somehow past some of this stuff, and yet there was so much vitriol directed at her on the internet. You had Hillary Clinton nutcrackers being sold, you had Tucker Carlson on cable television—more than once, I saw him say that when Hillary Clinton comes on television he involuntarily crosses his legs. She was repeatedly characterized as a bitch to the point that Tina Fey on Saturday Night Live famously proclaimed that “bitches get stuff done” and referred to “bitch” as “the new black.” The New York Times had a full-length article in the national news section—now, this was really surprising—devoted to an analysis of Clinton’s cackle: the way she laughed—was it genuine or was it somehow calculated? It just went on and on and on. And this time, I think we’re so far not seeing as much overt sexism at the same level, although there is this discussion of her tone which is just outrageous. Bernie Sanders yells constantly. It’s his style of speaking in front of a big crowd, and he’s just carrying on and screaming and he doesn’t smile very much. They don’t comment on that, but the media commentators—this has come up more than once recently—suggest that Hillary Clinton needs to modulate better, that she’s too shrill, that she needs to watch her tone, that she shouldn’t yell, that she needs to smile more often. And she doesn’t yell very much, but as soon as she raises her voice, she becomes "shrill."
SW: Those double standards are so clearly there. Given that she went through all this once before, I wonder how you think she has changed her strategy around her gender presentation and her identification as a feminist, and how she has learned from her experiences of being so demonized the first time around? How do you think she’s handled it differently this time, or has she?
SC: Well, I think she’s trying to show more humor. I think she’s trying to be more personable and reflective than she was the last time. In 2008, her chief strategist was a guy named Mark Penn, who felt that her major problems were that she needed to prove that she was tough enough to be commander in chief and that she was experienced, and there was good reason for that. There’s research that shows that one of the major stereotypes that voters have when it comes to women candidates is that they’re not tough enough, particularly in executive positions. And for the question of experience, women have to be more experienced to be seen as equally experienced compared to a man; men are assumed to be experienced, even when they’re not, and for women, the experience issue is always a question. Is she qualified? Is she really experienced? And there’s good research to back Penn up on his sense of these problems, but the whole campaign became about establishing her toughness and her experience. She made no appeals or references, basically throughout the entire campaign, to being a woman. She didn’t talk about being a woman until her final speech.
SW: Yeah, I find that very interesting. Right, until that "cracks in the ceiling" speech. It does seem to me that one of the things she’s doing now, which has been very interesting, has been to not only configure herself or reference herself as a woman but also to really reference herself as a feminist—to centralize herself as a feminist candidate, which, of course, is very heartening to see, but also I think it’ll be interesting to see how that will actually play out in both the remaining primaries and the general election.
SC: She’s definitely positioning herself more in terms of appealing to women voters, there’s no question about that. And she is talking about feminist issues and pursuing some feminist issues. She’s definitely strong on the issue of women’s reproductive rights and choice; she’s definitely strong on pay equity issues. In part, that’s because polls have shown that those issues are more popular, certainly with her base but also with voters in the middle who might vote for her. I think she got the message from the last election that she didn’t talk enough about gender-related issues. And this time she’s running much more as a woman, and initially was talking a lot about the historic nature of her candidacy. Women voters are supporting her in much greater proportions than men, even within the Democratic primary.
SW: Although there is this gap that I wonder if you could comment on. Hillary seems to have much stronger support among older women and then Bernie much stronger support among younger women, so that the gender breaks down around age there. How do you understand that?
SC: Well, I think it has to do with something that I very much admire among the millennial generation, which is that they have a much greater tolerance and acceptance of diversity and difference than older generations. Identity differences mean less to them—they just don’t make as much of it. They’re more accepting of an array of people. That’s a great thing. The flip side of that is that therefore the notion of a woman candidate means less to them than it means to older generations of women. They don’t see the barriers the same way that older generations of women who have lived through those barriers see them, and so I think that’s part of it.
I also think that the younger folks are very attracted to the idea of being part of a movement, being part of something bigger, and Bernie Sanders definitely offers that. Hillary has tried to change this recently, but she tends to talk more in terms of “I will do this” and Bernie talks more in terms of “we will do this.”
SC: Bernie is more of a movement politician—with the big rallies—and I actually think Hillary needs to adopt a little more of that if she becomes the nominee who moves on to the general election: a little more working to make younger people feel a part of something bigger. And then of course, there is the material side of it—the aspirational side of it, you might say—which is that Sanders is saying, “I’m going to make public education free, I’m going to make health care free.” So I think that’s very attractive, whereas Clinton isn’t going to go there because she knows she can’t really come through with those things, and she doesn’t want to run on those positions in the general election.
SW: One of the things I certainly have heard a lot from younger women, and it’s precisely what you were talking about, is a reluctance to make a case that voting for a woman qua woman has any merit in it of itself. There’s almost an embarrassment to say that. If I were to say that I do want to see a woman elected, that part of the reason I’m supporting Hillary is because she’s a woman, it’s looked upon as a kind of relic of an identity politics that we should have surpassed by now. What’s always interesting to me is that I actually think that that doesn’t play out quite the same way for race in our society. When Obama was running, I think people felt very free to say, “this is a historic moment, I want to support an African American running for office, having an African American in office is significant, it matters, it’s meaningful, and it’s part of the reason I’m supporting him.” I think we’re much more hesitant to do that around gender. I’ve found this quite a bit across all generations. Why do you think that is? Why does it break down so differently?
SC: That’s a tough one. I think that’s a fair observation. I think it just has to do with the different ways that race and gender have played out historically in our society. People are quicker in our society now—at least in some circles—to call out racism than they are sexism. You can still say sexist things—look at what the media did to Clinton in 2008; there’s no way they would’ve said racist things like that. It wouldn’t have been acceptable.
SW: That’s changing with this election, with Trump saying some of the most explicitly racist things imaginable.
SC: Well, that’s true. Trump is getting by with some things no one else seems to be able to get by with. But the media, per se, wouldn’t be doing it. The media would not be doing it as though it’s somehow part of objective reporting. There just is this difference. I also see a lot of people who say, “well, I would vote for a woman, but Hillary Clinton is not the woman,” right? “I’d vote for a woman candidate if she were the right candidate.” And my response to that is that if people are going to wait around for the perfect woman candidate, they’re never going to be voting for a woman—that perfect is the enemy of good and that all candidates are going to be flawed. If one could design the perfect woman candidate, Hillary Clinton wouldn’t be the candidate I’d design. She’s wouldn’t be my perfect candidate—she probably wouldn’t be your perfect women candidate. And she probably wouldn’t be the perfect woman candidate for anyone who hears or reads our discussion. I do also think there is a gender component to this—that women want to hold women to a very high standard, maybe because we have so much at stake. If a woman fails, we all are going to be judged by it. So maybe there’s more at stake, but there is also a move to hold out for a woman who is better, for a woman who represents me.
SW: Well, one of the things I’ve often heard too is that I think there is this fear of being tarred with the brush of essentialism. There’s this idea that women are thinking with their vaginas, certainly for those of us who have written about Hillary and have been in any of the public debates about any of this. I haven’t had one moment where I think, “Suzanna, you must be thinking with your vagina.” [laughter] You’re voting with your gender and of course that immediately disenfranchises you and dismisses any argument you make and puts you in a category of being not a serious thinker about these issues. It’s an interesting phenomenon I’ve seen happening again and again, and of course the double standard remains a pattern. No one seems to be asking supporters of Bernie or of Ted Cruz or Obama if they’re voting with their gender. We only ask the question of voting with your gender, voting with your genitals, to women who are supporting women candidates.
SC: For me, gender is a fair consideration to think about. I mean, we factor many things into our voting decisions. We always factor personal characteristics into voting decisions. Even people who say they don’t, they do. We make an assessment about someone’s leadership capacity. The American public wants their candidates, for the most part, to be likable—to be somebody they want to have a beer with.
The people who are supporting Hillary Clinton wouldn’t be supporting Sarah Palin. I mean, it just wouldn’t happen. So this isn’t just about gender. It’s just that gender is one of the many considerations that go into our decisions, and there’s very little evidence that gender trumps party or ideology.
SW: Of course, but it’s not only that. Gender and race are only brought up when it has to do with women or people of color. One of the things that’s interesting about the Trump candidacy is that actually, for the first time, people are really talking about a kind of virulent and ugly white masculinity. If there’s an upside of what’s going on with Trump, and I don’t think there’s much of one, but if there’s any upside, it’s that the lens of gender is for once being trained on a man and a male candidate instead of only female candidates.
SC: That’s true, although the objectification of women that’s taking place on that side is quite something. [laughter] It’s astounding, actually.
SW: Well, let me just follow up and ask you something about that: do you think—in a historical sense—that there’s any relationship in this particular, bizarre political moment between having a viable woman candidate for the first time and, on the other side of the fence, having this virulently misogynist candidate. This moment of Trump and Clinton—is this just a coincidence? Is the Trump candidacy in some way part of that long backlash that Susan Faludi wrote about and that still is with us? Is that part of what is motivating this?
SC: Maybe some of the stuff he’s doing around gender is in some way an attempt to appeal to people he wants to shore up who might otherwise think about Hillary Clinton. I think when we get into a general election, we might see that in the competition for white working-class males.
Black voters are incredibly solidly in Hillary Clinton’s camp and that includes, for the most part, young black voters as well. There is some generational difference, but they’re still breaking for Clinton, and black women are Clinton’s real base. I don’t think most people know this, but black women actually vote at the highest rate of any racial gender group. In other words, they vote at a higher rate than white women, and white women outvote white men.
SW: If it is a contest between Clinton and Trump, how do you imagine her strategy to broaden the gender gap, which would be even more profoundly present with a Trump candidacy? What do you imagine her strategy will be, and how do you imagine she might reckon with and respond to the kind of misogyny that’s going to come at her from a Trump candidacy?
SC: Those are tough questions. Well, I actually think she will not try to maximize the gender gap. I don’t think she’ll have to. I believe she’ll just let Trump do it for her. He just keeps saying things that will offend a lot of women, so I think she can be somewhat passive. I think she pursues her campaign strategy and she does what she’s doing now and she talks about pay equity and she talks about abortion and reproductive rights and contraceptives—issues that will appeal to women—in addition to her general issues. But I don’t think her strategy would change that much. The question of how she’s going to deal with Trump—they’d have to pay me a lot of money to come up with that.
SW: I mean, I think it is the question. I can sort of configure how Bernie would push back against Trump, but it’s hard to quite know, for Hillary, because what will be so patently obvious, I think, is how Trump will play this as a kind of bully and he will use a kind of--
SC: And he’ll probably get away with it, based on what we’ve seen. That’s the thing. For instance, Rick Lazio, when he ran against Clinton in the US Senate race in New York, went over and shook his finger at her, and it backfired tremendously on him.
SC: He pointed his finger at her. Trump doing that would only probably help Trump, you know? The same rules don’t seem to apply to his behavior. People expect him to be outrageous and expect him to be a bully and so it doesn’t seem to have the same consequences. It’s part of his MO. So I don’t know, I think it’s a bit of a wild card to imagine how you run against someone like that. Part of the challenge, I think, of running against Trump, is that one of the target groups for Clinton is going to have to be white, working-class men. Not that she’s ever going to win all of them over, but she needs to avoid doing terribly with them. In 2008, she did pretty well in the primaries with that particular group, but Trump has particular appeal there, and this might be where her choice of a vice presidential candidate can hopefully help her.
SW: Well, I was just going to end with asking you about any prognostications about who her ticket-mate might be. Do you think a Hillary-Bernie pairing is in o--
SC: Absolutely not. [laughter] Not a chance.
SW: Oh, so many of us would love to see it, but yes, I think you’re probably right. What do you think?
SC: Well, it’s hard to know, because most campaigns make the decision based on what they think they need for the campaign at that time, but I think she would go one of two directions: Either she picks somebody who can help go after labor union guys, and try to peel off some support from some of them— Joe Biden would have had that appeal, perhaps. She’s not going to pick Biden, but he would have that kind of appeal. And the person I would point to as a possibility is Ohio senator Sherrod Brown. He’s quite like Elizabeth Warren in his politics, actually. So I think it would help to keep the left part of the Democratic base happier, and he’s very pro-union and antitrade. Most importantly, he comes from Ohio and is popular there, and in recent history, a Republican has never won the presidency without carrying Ohio. The fact that he’s from Ohio makes him very, very attractive as a potential vice presidential candidate. I mean, if I were in Clinton’s shoes, he would look very attractive.
The other way she may go is to look for someone who’s Latino. The name that’s out there that gets bounced around a lot is Julián Castro, who’s Secretary of Housing and Urban Development in the Obama administration and formerly mayor of San Antonio. He’s a little light on experience, but he’s young. He would present a younger image and help pull in Latinos, who are going to be critical in certain states--Colorado being one. So she might go that direction. If I had to guess, I would guess she would go one of those two routes, but who knows? I don’t think she’s going to pick Elizabeth Warren or Bernie Sanders. Warren is very popular with the base, but I don’t see a two-woman ticket, and I think Clinton is probably going to go for someone who’s going to pull in voters she thinks she might have more of a problem with than the base voters. But that’s all speculation. Who knows? [laughter]
SW: Well, we’ve all got bets on it. I’ve got bets on Castro, so … [laughter]
SC: Oh, do you?
SW: Yeah. [laughter]
SC: It’s all going to be very fascinating to watch if we live through it.
SW: [laughter] If we only live through it. It is a bizarre political moment, to say the least. I mean, it’s so hard to make prognostications because everything has been turned upside down.
SC: It is. It is the weirdest election one could imagine. I mean, nobody could’ve foreseen this election. [laughter] Although, I have to say, I suspect that, on the whole, Republicans are far more upset by this election than Democrats are at the moment.
SW: Well, it was so wonderful talking to you.
SC: Oh, well thank you.
SW: Thank you so much. It was just, it was absolutely fantastic and I really so much appreciate your help with this.
SC: Sure, it’s been a lot of fun.
Susan J. Carroll is Professor of Political Science and Women’s and Gender Studies at Rutgers University and Senior Scholar at the Center for American Women and Politics (CAWP) of the Eagleton Institute of Politics. Recent publications include More Women Can Run: Gender and Pathways to State Legislatures (Oxford University Press 2013, with Kira Sanbonmatsu) and Gender and Elections: Shaping the Future of American Politics (3rd ed., Cambridge University Press, 2014, with Richard L. Fox). Earlier books are Women as Candidates in American Politics (2nd ed., Indiana University Press, 1994); Women and American Politics: New Questions, New Directions (Oxford, 2003); and The Impact of Women in Public Office (Indiana University Press, 2001). Carroll’s journal articles and book chapters include analyses of how gender affected the 2008 presidential and vice presidential bids of Hillary Clinton and Sarah Palin. Her current research focuses on the politics of the gender gap in voting and women’s representation in Congress. A nationally recognized expert on women’s political participation, Carroll is frequently called upon for media commentary.