Clinton’s Victory Provides New Opportunity to Analyze Gender Dynamics, Says Researcher

Louisville, Kentucky – May 15, 2016: Secretary of State Hillary Clinton campaigns to a crowd at a rally in Louisville, Kentucky.

Hillary Clinton campaigns at a rally on May 15 in Louisville, Kentucky.

By Tom McLaughlin

In crossing this milestone to becoming the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, Hillary Clinton continues the work of women who have come before her in changing the face of U.S. presidential leadership, says Kelly Dittmar, an assistant professor of political science at Rutgers University–Camden.

But while it marks a historic moment in the nation’s history, Clinton’s victory also lays new and important ground for analysis of gender dynamics in American politics, explains Dittmar.

“From now forward, Clinton will navigate uncharted terrain for women, negotiating the very real gender dynamics of becoming commander-in-chief,” says Dittmar, who is also a scholar for the Center for American Women and Politics (CAWP) at Rutgers University–New Brunswick. “She, and her strategy, will be analyzed at each step of the way, but so too will the reactions of voters, media, and her opponent.”


Dittmar says that this presidential race has made very clear the ways in which gender is at play for all candidates, both male and female.

Dittmar explains that, to date, the wealth of research focusing on women and politics provides an important foundation for how to study this campaign, but the campaign itself will surely raise new questions and provide new data points on how gender informs politics at the presidential level.

For example, says Dittmar, this presidential race has made very clear the ways in which gender is at play for all candidates, both male and female.

“Trump’s performance of masculinity seeks to maintain a gender balance of power in presidential politics that has long benefited men,” says Dittmar, author of the book Navigating Gendered Terrain: Stereotypes and Strategy in Political Campaigns. “That performance is just as important to analyze as Clinton’s navigation of gender – or, as some call it, ‘playing the woman card.’”

According to the Rutgers–Camden researcher, the current presidential race is a significant reminder that American politics is not “beyond gender” simply due to a woman’s success at the top of the ticket and, secondly, that gender does not simply refer to women.

“I don’t think that the presidential race is the first to highlight these issues by any means, but it provides a clear example for scholars to analyze and discuss further,” says Dittmar.

Beyond the candidates themselves, adds Dittmar, the race also raises important questions about voter behavior and the tension between party allegiance, candidate favorability, and demographic influences on turnout and/or voter choice. She plans to continue analyzing all of these dynamics as manager of Presidential Gender Watch 2016, a project of CAWP and the Barbara Lee Family Foundation.

“Women and politics scholarship has been working to better integrate an intersectional approach to studying politics,” says Dittmar. “This presidential race provides a great case study for analyzing how identity and intersections of multiple identities shape voter perceptions and behavior.”

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