Hillary Clinton would make a great prime minister

Nothing to make me feel smart to have some ideas floating around in my head and then have Ezra Klein come out and right a whole piece about them (far more effectively than I ever could, of course).  Anyway, I had been thinking that Hillary Clinton’s great skill as a politician is the “inside game.”  That is working on building relationships and alliances within the political party in a way that is typically how someone gets to become Prime Minister (PM’s get elected by becoming leader of their party and then having their party win a national election, not through a national campaign on their own merits as a national candidate).  In fact, when one looks at women heads-of-state in recent history, the vast majority have been Prime Ministers and not Presidents.  Anyway, Ezra’s post-California post on Hillary gets at a lot of this and nicely brings in the role of gender stereotypes.  Pretty sure this will make the next Gender & Politics syllabus:

Whether you like Clinton or hate her — and plenty of Americans hate her — it’s time to admit that the reason Clinton was the one to break it is because Clinton is actually really good at politics.

She’s just good at politics in a way we haven’t learned to appreciate.

How presidential campaigns favor male traits

Hillary Clinton has her flaws, of course. The email server. The speeches to Goldman Sachs. And just look at her unfavorable numbers! But what really defines coverage of Clinton is confusion over how she’s gotten so far without the animal charisma typical of politicians at her level.

There is something Rebecca Traister wrote in her terrific profile of Clinton that I have been thinking about for weeks. She began by admitting what everyone admits. Clinton is not a great campaigner. She does not give great speeches. She does not inspire. And she knows it. “I am not a natural politician, in case you haven’t noticed, like my husband or President Obama,” Clinton has said…

It is not that no women possess a public magnetism; Sarah Palin could rock a room, and Elizabeth Warren can work a crowd. But the quality we adore in presidential candidates — the ability to stand up and speak loudly, confidently, and fluently on topics you may know nothing about — is gendered.

Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders are both excellent yellers, and we love them for it.Nobody likes it when Hillary Clinton yells. As my colleague Emily Crockett has written, research shows people don’t like it when women yell in general:…

It may not be impossible for a woman to win the presidency the way we are used to men doing it, but it is unlikely. The way a woman is likeliest to win will defy our expectations.

Perhaps that’s why we don’t appreciate Clinton’s strengths as a candidate. She’s winning a process that evolved to showcase stereotypically male traits using a stereotypically female strategy.

And it’s working…

But another way to look at the primary is that Clinton employed a less masculine strategy to win. She won the Democratic primary by spending years slowly, assiduously, building relationships with the entire Democratic Party. She relied on a more traditionally female approach to leadership: creating coalitions, finding common ground, and winning over allies. Today, 208 members of Congress have endorsed Clinton; only eight have endorsed Sanders.

This work is a grind — it’s not big speeches, it doesn’t come with wide applause, and it requires an emotional toughness most human beings can’t summon…

In this telling, in order to do something as hard as becoming the first female presidential nominee of a major political party, she had to do something extraordinarily difficult: She had to build a coalition, supported by a web of relationships, that dwarfed in both breadth and depth anything a non-incumbent had created before. It was a plan that played to her strengths, as opposed to her (entirely male) challengers’ strengths. And she did it.

Hillary Clinton is a generationally talented politician — albeit across a different set of dimensions than men tend to be talented politicians. [emphasis mine]

Meanwhile, Vox’s Zach Beauchamp with a great piece (also into the next syllabus) that sums up the research on how women are much more likely to be elected PM than president:

Study after study has found that women are more likely to 1) become prime minister rather than president, and 2) more likely to gain either a presidency OR a premiership when it shares power with another office.

“I analyzed pretty much all the women who have ever run for president around the world,” Jalalzai says, referring to a 2013 book. “One of the most striking findings was that almost never do women actually win their election contest when they’re running for presidencies.”

The problem here has to do with gender stereotypes. Prime ministers are only rarely elected by a direct popular vote; in parliamentary systems, people usually vote for parties rather than individuals.

That means a woman who wants to become prime minister takes power by cooperating with members of her party and convincing them to put her in the top job, rather than through grueling national elections. Presidential contests, as Ezra Klein writes, emphasize allegedly “masculine” virtues like oratorical skill and toughness over “feminine” ones like cooperation and consensus building…

Presidential elections, then, activate gendered stereotypes in the electorate. Consciously or subconsciously, voters tend to think that presidents should be men in a way that they don’t when it comes to prime ministers.

This helps explain why women have led advanced democracies like the UK, Germany, Israel, and Canada, but not presidential countries like the US and France.

Lots, lots more good stuff in this Beauchamp post on the importance inyriad ways of having a woman nominated for the US Presidency.  Despite a really thorough review of literature, he did not hit one that’s a favorite of mine where in a hypothetical election respondents “vote” for either “Brian” or “Karen” with identical resumes.  For a Senate election, it doesn’t seem to matter.  But in a presidential election, it’s a lot worse to be “Karen.”  Oh, and “Terry” is right between the two :-).

Anyway, to end I want to reiterate Ezra’s main point because I do think he is spot-on.  Hillary Clinton truly is a very skilled politician.  It is just a different set of skills than we typically think about in a presidential nominee.

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About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State http://faculty.chass.ncsu.edu/shgreene

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