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Shifting norms on gender and leadership: are ambitious women punished in politics? – British Politics and Policy at LSE



Sparsha Saha and Ana Weeks show that while ambitious women are not penalised by voters overall, the aggregate results hide differences in taste for ambitious women across parties. They find that in the US, left-wing voters are more likely to support women with progressive ambition than right-wing ones, while in the UK parties are not as divided.

In a major milestone for women, the US Democratic party recently nominated Kamala Harris as the first Black and Asian-American woman for vice president, making her the party’s second female VP pick in nearly 200 years of history. But the run-up to her nomination was fraught with claims that she was disloyal and somehow `too ambitious’ for the role. It’s a story we’ve heard before. In 2016, Hillary Clinton was criticised for her `unbridled ambition’. Way back in 1975, Margaret Thatcher faced similar claims that she was `ruthlessly ambitious’. All politicians must be ambitious in order to run for office, so why do we see, again and again, women criticised for a quality that seems to be prized in men?

In our recent study, we investigate the notion that ambitious female political candidates are punished by voters in a way that similarly ambitious male political candidates are not. Building on role congruity theory and studies from negotiation and dominance, we hypothesized that “ambitious” women might be punished for transgressing gender stereotypes. We conducted five survey experiments over the course of three years in both the US and the UK, asking almost 4000 people to vote in hypothetical elections involving made-up resumes of male and female candidates with varying levels of ambition. We were surprised to find that, overall, voters are just as likely to vote for an ambitious female candidate as they are an ambitious male candidate. We looked at several types of ambition – from ambitious personality traits like “determined” and “assertive” to ambitious political agendas and ambitious office-seeking – and combinations of these traits. Across all the surveys, we did not find evidence that ambitious women are any less preferred than ambitious men.

While, overall, ambitious women aren’t punished, we found differences in preferences for ambitious women across parties. In the US, Democrats are more supportive of women candidates with presidential aspirations than Republicans are (a difference of 7 percentage points). Democrats are particularly enthusiastic about women with office-seeking ambition, but Republicans are not. This finding is in line with previous work, which finds that bias against a potential woman president is concentrated among Republicans, and that women candidates on the right face greater challenges in the political pipeline and during elections. In the UK, however, it is Conservative voters who appear most favourable towards ambitious female candidates (although differences across parties were not statistically significant). Our interpretation of these cross-national differences is that context – the history of women in leadership – matters. The UK has had two female Prime Ministers, both of them Conservatives. Even far right voters (respondents who said they had voted for UKIP) did not penalise ambitious women, although they especially favoured “assertive” men. UKIP and the newer Brexit party have also both had women leaders.

The findings reflect shifting norms on women and leadership. This is good news. Our work is one of many recent studies which suggest that explicit voter discrimination is not the cause of women’s underrepresentation in politics. In fact, voters actually prefer women by about 2 percentage points, on average. So then, what can explain the persistent narrative that ambition is bad for women candidates? One of the reasons could be that women perceive that they will face additional discrimination. Another reason may be that political gatekeepers (who tend to be older male politicians) are oversensitive to the idea that women candidates might not do as well. For example, in the case of Kamala Harris, it was reportedly Chris Dodd who was concerned that Harris was “too ambitious”. Likewise, Elizabeth Warren shared that Bernie Sanders told her in a private meeting that he didn’t think the US was ready for a female president. Finally, by reporting on stories about women’s ambition, the media itself perpetuates stereotypes.

There are some important caveats to our work. First, we need more research on the role of race. Minority candidates themselves have noted the potential role of race, and it is possible that voters are more accepting of ambitious white female candidates since we did not include race as a factor in our experiments. Second, our study provides experimental evidence. It is possible that in real life, when voters are exposed to high-profile “ambitious” women over weeks and months, attitudes might be different. If women are portrayed as having overtly negative “power-hungry” or unethical types of ambition, we might be particularly likely to see gender-based discrimination emerge. Interviewing candidates themselves, to see if their experiences and perceptions of voter bias match what we find, would be a great next step. Still, the findings reflect a great deal of “real world” data that when women run, they win. The finding that ambitious women are not punished is important for both men and women to know so that women are not discouraged from running, and male gatekeepers are not afraid to let them in.


About the Authors

Sparsha Saha is Preceptor in Expository Writing at Harvard University.

Ana Weeks is Lecturer in Comparative Politics at the University of Bath.

Photo by DK Dykstra-Lathrop on Unsplash.

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Watchdogs Examine Pompeo's Election-Year Politics For Law Breaking – NPR



Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has been far more overtly political than his predecessors, raising ethics concerns about his possible Hatch Act violations.

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How Kamala Harris highlights what women in politics face – BBC News



For minority women, these gender biases are compounded by racial ones too. And in the US, the trope of the “angry black woman” is an old, insidious stereotype. The trope, which emerged in the 19th Century, characterised black women as unfeminine, irrational and sassy.

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Parliamentary showdown looms as Conservatives, Liberals dig in heels over anti-corruption committee –



The prospect of a snap election hangs in the balance as the Liberal government and the opposition Conservatives spar over a proposal to create a parliamentary committee to probe the Liberal government’s pandemic response spending and possible ethical lapses.

Today, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said that Canadians will go to the polls if his government loses a confidence vote on the Conservative motion.

“We have rolled out unprecedented measures to support Canadians, to support small businesses, to support families, to support communities right across the country, and we feel that parliamentarians should in this exceptional time have an ability to look very carefully at all that spending. And that’s why we’re proposing this special committee,” Trudeau told a news conference in Ottawa.

“But it will be up to parliamentarians and the opposition to decide whether they want to make this minority Parliament work, or whether they’ve lost confidence in this government’s ability to manage this pandemic and continue to govern this country during this crisis.”

The government had proposed striking a special committee with a narrower mandate to review federal COVID-19 program spending.

WATCH / Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on possible election:

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says Canadians will go to the polls if his government loses a confidence vote on a Conservative motion this week. 1:46

The Bloc Québécois has pledged to support the Conservative motion, which means the Liberals must have the NDP’s support to survive the confidence vote.

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh said late Tuesday that the government’s decision to make the committee motion a confidence matter was “outrageous” and “absurd.” He would not say how his party’s MPs might vote on the motion, or whether they would abstain. He also accused Trudeau of trying to force an election while blaming it on the opposition parties.

“I will not let the prime minister use this discussion over a committee as an excuse to go into an election,” Singh said.

“I don’t understand how he can justify going to people and plunging this country into an election for an opposition day motion about a committee … I will not be any part of this farce.”

Singh said he continues to engage with other parties to find a solution.

WATCH / NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh on committee motion:

NDP leader Jagmeet Singh spoke with reporters today about the upcoming confidence vote in the House of Commons. 0:52

Earlier today, Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole argued that creating a special committee to probe possible misuse of tax dollars during the coronavirus pandemic would not constitute legitimate grounds for triggering a general election.

During a news conference in Ottawa, O’Toole said his party’s push to strike a so-called “anti-corruption” committee to scrutinize government spending, lobbying and the delivery of federal aid programs is simply about holding the government to account on possible misspending and ethical lapses.

The Liberal government says the motion to create the parliamentary committee will be considered a confidence vote — meaning it could lead to a snap federal election.

MPs will vote on the motion tomorrow.

O’Toole said the Conservative motion being debated today has been amended to include language specifying that creating the committee should not be deemed grounds to order an election.

He said he’s also open to changing the name of the committee if that would bring other opposition parties on board.

Liberals have dodged accountability: O’Toole

“Canadians expect the truth. They deserve accountability. That’s what this committee will do,” he said, adding that the Liberals have dodged accountability by withholding documents, proroguing Parliament and shedding a key minister embroiled in the WE Charity controversy.

Bloc Québécois Leader Yves-François Blanchet said he supports the Conservative motion. He said what the Liberals propose would not be enough to get answers on the ethical questions surrounding the government.

He said his team is “absolutely ready” to go if there is an early election.

“I still doubt that the government would be irresponsible enough or light-headed enough to precipitate Quebec and Canada into an election, but they sure feel the temptation. They just do not want to be responsible for it,” Blanchet said. 

“They want to provoke, challenge, force the Parliament to remove its confidence, its trust in favour of the government to be in elections without being responsible for it, which nobody will believe, of course.”

Trudeau says election not in Canadians’ best interest

In an interview with Toronto radio station RED FM Tuesday, Trudeau accused the Conservatives of playing political games as the government tries to focus on supporting Canadians through the coronavirus pandemic.

“We’ve said if they think we’re so corrupt, then maybe they don’t have confidence in the government, and I think that’s something very important. If they want to make criticisms, they have to be willing to back it up in the House,” he said.

Trudeau said he does not want an election and that holding one now would not be in the best interests of Canadians.

“But if the Conservatives are saying that this government is completely corrupt, then I think they have to face the consequences of that,” he said.

Liberal House leader Pablo Rodriguez called the Conservative motion “totally irresponsible” and confirmed the government will deem it a confidence motion.

He said the committee will detract from the government’s efforts to help Canadians through the health and financial crises.

“Their motion is nothing more than a dangerous political plan to paralyze the government, and they’re doing this at a time when we should all be focusing on keeping Canadians safe and healthy during the pandemic,” he said.

The Conservative motion would give the new committee a mandate to examine the Canada student service grant and the ties between WE Charity — which had been selected to administer the program — and members of the Liberal government and their family members.

It also would be tasked to examine other issues related to the government’s COVID-19 response.

The Conservatives say the committee would have the power to call Trudeau as a witness, as well as Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland and other cabinet ministers.

Weeks ago, the NDP pitched a special committee that would focus exclusively on pandemic-related spending — an idea the Tories’ anti-corruption probe would amplify.

The Liberals countered with their own proposal for a COVID-19 committee, detailing their pitch Monday in a letter to the House leaders of the other parties.

They’re proposing one that focuses on pandemic-related spending, with six Liberal MPs and six members of the opposition parties. The Tories’ version would have 15 MPs, with the opposition holding the majority.

Documents dropped Monday

More light was shed Monday on the interactions between WE Charity and the government with the release of dozens of pages of documents previously demanded by the finance committee. The documents include details of fees paid to, and expenses covered for, members of the Trudeau family who participated in WE events.

The charity said previously that Sophie Gregoire Trudeau, the prime minister’s wife, had been paid a $1,500 speaking fee for one appearance. The documents released Monday also disclosed that the charity covered $23,940.76 in expenses for eight appearances between 2012 and 2020.

The Commons’ ethics committee also has demanded to know how much money Trudeau and his family received in speakers’ fees over the last several years. Trudeau released details of his own fees Monday — amounting to about $1.3 million — which he disclosed when he ran for leadership of the party in 2013.

But the Liberals said his family’s records were off limits.

WATCH / Leaders spar in Commons over Conservative motion:

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau debated Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole and NDP MP Charlie Angus over the confidence vote set for Wednesday afternoon. 2:36

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