Women in high office: is America ready?

March 26, 2015, 2:31 PM GMT+0

Two thirds of Americans now say the country is ready to elect a woman as president, a significant increase from 1996 and 2007

Once again, Americans face the prospect of a woman campaigning for a major party’s presidential nomination.  Seven years ago, Hillary Clinton lost the Democratic nomination; she is expected to try again next year.  Is America ready for a woman?  According to the latest Economist/YouGov Poll it is – that is, two in three Americans think the country is ready to elect a woman as President.

Eight years ago, not quite as many Americans thought that was the case: just over half said the country was ready to elect a woman.

The change seems to have come from women themselves.   In several previous polls, men were more likely than women to answer “yes” when asked if America was ready to elect a woman president.  Now there is almost no difference: 66% of men and 67% of women think the country is ready. 

Hillary Clinton currently holds a sizable lead with Democratic voters: in this poll she is more than 50 points ahead of her nearest rival.  As before, the partisan differences on the question about readiness for a woman remain.  But Republicans, Democrats and Independents are all more likely than they were eight years ago to say America is ready to elect a women.

Clinton’s candidacy (and her party) may be affecting answers even more when people are asked if they hope the country will elect a woman president in their lifetime.   More than six in ten do hope there will be one, but Republicans aren‘t so sure.  They are just as likely to say “not sure” or “no” as they are to say “yes.”

However, a majority of Republicans believe the United States will have a woman president in their lifetime.  78% of Democrats agree.

Americans see little difference between male and female candidates when it comes to their expressing emotions in public.  By three to one, Americans say it is appropriate for candidates of each gender to express emotions in public: men say it’s okay for men to do it; women believe it’s fine for women to do so.  There is no difference in how each sex views the other on this question. 

Americans are even comfortable with the idea of a woman in the role of Commander-in-Chief.  Men and women overwhelmingly say that they could have confidence in a female president’s ability to handle an international crisis.  Nearly two in three think the country is ready to see a woman serve as Chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (one already does on television’s Madam Secretary).  A majority also think there could be a woman as Secretary of Defense.

There’s little difference between men and women on these questions.  But Republicans are somewhat less likely to say the country is ready for women in these positions.  Almost half of Republicans think the country is ready to accept a woman serving as head of the Joint Chiefs, but Republicans divide evenly on whether the country is ready for a woman Secretary of Defense.

Democrats and independents see little difference between male and female candidates when it comes to toughness on national defense issues.  The most popular answer among Republicans, however, is that male politicians are tougher on national defense than women politicians are. 

On the other hand, nearly half of Republicans say women candidates don’t have to appear to be tougher than male opponents when it comes to national defense issues.  Democrats believe they have to.

Of course, while Americans say they would have confidence in a “woman president’s” ability to handle international crisis, that doesn’t necessarily apply to the specific woman likely to run this year.  Asked about confidence in Hillary Clinton’s ability to handle an international crisis, America divides evenly, and almost entirely on partisan lines.   

There is one high office, so far never held by a woman, about which Americans are especially likely to see a women take the chair – and that is the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.  Women are a third of the current justices (there have been only four women who have ever served).  More than three in four Americans think the country is ready for a female Chief Justice. 

And men and women agree.

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See the full poll results

Economist/YouGov poll archives can be found here.