Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Is Amy Klobuchar right about sexism in the Democratic Party?

Senator Amy Klobucahr recently claimed that sexism has undermined her presidential campaign particularly  in reference to  Mayor Pete Buttigeg's qualifications.: "I think Pete is qualified to be up on this stage, and I am honored to be standing next to him. But what I said is true. Women are held to a higher standard."   Moreover, she suggested that her senatorial experience made her a superior candidate.  While it's difficult to determine the exact role of sexism in the Klobuchar's campaign, it is true that female candidates face unique challenges.

The Perils of the Pipeline 

 Senator Klobuchar's comments point to the political pipeline. The pipeline consists in the process by which  citizens enter into the political process and  run for office. This results in a discrepancy causing women being underrepresented in  powerful political positions. Notably, this is true at a local level. 22% of mayors who govern cities with populations over 30,000 are female.  Congress reflects similar patterns;   25% of senators are female with 23% in the House of Representatives.   
These patterns extend even further into traditional political qualifications such as law and the military.  91% of veterans  are male.   Similarly, men constitute 62% of lawyers.  Additionally, commentators have observed that feminine candidates are seen as incompetent.  Due to stereotypes of feminine, voters may place double standards on emotional displays. Typically, men are seen as reasonable while women are emotional. In Klobuchar's case, she asserts that allegations that she mistreats her staff is an example of this sexism.   These discrepancies help clarify why the United States has yet to elect a female president or vice president.

However, these conditions  do not spell disaster for aspiring female politicians. Women with backgrounds in education and medicine have found success as state legislators.    
While this does not necessarily decrease the challenges female candidates face, it does raise possibilities for the future. 45% of members of congress served in state legislators.     The prospects extend even further into the presidential pipeline: 48% of presidents served as state legislators. 
Furthermore, liberal voters generally treat female politicians fairly. In a study conducted by three Brigham Young University professors and a Stanford graduate student, liberals reacted positively to entry-level female candidates. While the study demonstrates that conservatives are generally disposed to view feminine candidates as likable but incompetent,  this pattern did not reappear with liberals. Consequently, it is fair to state that women are held to a higher standard. Yet this is less true of likely Democratic voters.

Of Outsiders and Advantages

Nevertheless, Klobuchar's overall message, that she is more qualified than Buttigeg, has a degree of merit.  Historically, the Senate has served as a launching pad for many future presidents. 35% of presidents served in the Senate. Klobuchar's liberal audience can count Democratic superstars such as John F. Kennedy and Barrack Obama as examples of shining senatorial expertise in the White House.   For Buttigeg's own part, mayors are less common in presidential history. Only two, Grover Cleveland and Calvin Coolidige, were elected to the White House.  Notably, both Cleveland and Coolidge were more qualified than Buttigeg having served as governors. 

Yet in Buttigeg's defense, outsiders possess a certain appeal.As he stated, "Washington experience is not the only experience that matters".    At a time when 60% of Americans disapprove of Democrats in Congress,  such experience may actually be a political liability. Nor is he alone in these sentiments.  Notably, Andrew Yang, an entrepreneur, is polling higher than Klobuchar.     The 2016 presidential election displayed similar patterns. Ben Carson , a surgeon,  briefly emerged as a serious rival to Donald Trump in Iowa.   During this time, Hillary Clinton made similar arguments to Klobuchar's on the importance of experience: " I know what you're saying, 'Do we want people who have never been elected to anything, who have no political experience, who've never made hard choices in the public arena?' Well voters are going to have to decide that."   In the end, anti-establishment sentiment carried the day: Donald Trump , a celebrity businessman with virtually no political experience, was elected to the White House. While this may not be a model that many Democrats would embrace, Trump's success demonstrates that power of outsiders.

Furthermore,  it should be acknowledged  that Buttigeg's background as an openly gay candidate is fairly unique. Even among Democrats, this can prove to be a challenge. 14% more Democrats are willing to vote for a woman than a homosexual candidate. If women are uncommonly associated with political power, the same is true of the LGBT  community.Currently there are 10 LGBT members of Congress with two serving in the senate. As 4.5% of the population is LGBT, they are underrepresented.   Even among mayors, Pete Buttigeg is an anomaly: only 34 LGBT mayors serve in the United States' cities. The pipeline is not favorable to the LGBT community.  Thus, it's fair to state that Buttigeg's ascent has not been without headwinds. 

Navigating a Minefield 

Is Klobuchar right? It's possible that sexism plays a role in her campaign's struggles. It is true that her background can be considered more "presidential" than Buttigeg's in terms of experience. However, it is also true that outsider candidates can have an advantage. Similarly, if Klobuchar's campaign is indeed stumbling on the rocks of sexism, Buttigeg's is likely being held back by homophobia.  In such a competitive field,  it's a challenge for any candidate to rise to the top of the Democratic pack.  Klobuchar has merely identified one in sexism. 


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