Female candidates 2020 and the false narrative of electability

Female candidates 2020 and the false narrative of electability

What matters in any presidential election is who can win the 270 electoral college votes needed to go to the White House. On its face, the electability of a presidential candidate refers to their likelihood of securing those 270 votes. But scratch the surface, and you will find a deeper implication of what it means to be electable.  

Electability, in today’s vernacular, is the conveniently nebulous term for pattern-matching. That is, we match the projections of who will win based on who has won.

Throughout U.S. history, electability means white and male. Why? Because there’s a narrative at play: the narrative of electability. Not only is this narrative false, it threatens our economic and democratic stability.


The magnitude of the false narrative grows as we inch closer to the 2020 elections. Now is the time to examine it for what it truly is: decades of historical bias that comes with massive economic costs. Or opportunities, depending on how you view the glass. 

What does electability have to do with historic bias?

Electability means the probability that a candidate will win based on how closely their demographics, namely gender and race, match the demographics of previously victorious candidates. Under this presumed definition of electability, a female minority candidate is less electable than a white male candidate.

The bias in our thinking reflects the complexities of our brains. Human intelligence evolved to detect patterns, learn languages, notice trends in financial markets, and more. Unfortunately, pattern-matching also facilitates our application of archetypes. Archetypes, at their maturity, transform into unconscious bias.

So when we question a candidate’s “electability,” we draw on years of historical patterns to inform our decisions. Our decisions, in turn, feed a biased theoretical narrative. Instead, we should draw on facts to inform data-driven conclusions, and in the following two sections, we do. 

Expect unprecedented demographic shifts in 2020


The data indicate unprecedented shifts in voter demographics for the 2020 elections. Unfortunately, the narrative of electability does not account for these expected changes. It should, considering that a third of eligible voters in 2020 will be nonwhite and one in ten eligible voters will have been born outside the U.S.

At 13 percent, Hispanics will make up the largest racial minority group in the 2020 electorate. Blacks will comprise 12.5 percent of eligible voters and Asian representation will peak at about 11 million, more than doubling in size from 2000. 

Demographic shifts versus voter turnout

If we overlay the shifting vote demographics with voter turnout and voter preferences (numerators that shift Democrat or Republican), we begin to see a shift toward the electability of a female president.

In 2016, nonwhite voters were more likely to back Democratic candidates. Women of color and white women with a bachelor’s degree or higher are also more likely to vote Democratic. Those three demographics are all increasing in the 2020 electorate. Moreover, women have been voting in higher numbers than men since 1964.

Fewer women in politics is bad for our economy

Can a woman win the presidency? The narrative of electability says no because it assumes the demographics of the voters have stayed the same, but they have not. This change matters for predicting electability. When the electorate changes, so does the definition of electability.  

By perpetuating the narrative of electability, we create barriers to success — not only for women seeking presidential office but also to economic growth. 

In addition to research showing congresswomen as more effective than congressmen, our country’s economy benefits from robust democracy that comes as a result of women’s political leadership for several reasons. First, we already know that gender equity has positive outcomes for all. In the U.S. alone, we could increase our annual GDP by $2T by closing the gender equity gap. Second, increasing women’s representation in politics is a main tenant in achieving gender equity. Why? Because 90 percent of countries have at least one legal restriction holding women back from full economic participation, and women in elected office implement policies that close the gender equity gap. 

It is not sound practice to throttle a woman’s political participation. Doing so throttles her economic potential and causes everyone to miss out on the $2T opportunity that is gender equity. 

The danger of electability 

All six women Democratic candidates qualified for the first Democratic presidential debates on June 26 and 27. All six (100 percent), met both of the DNC’s eligibility requirements for polling and grassroots effort thresholds. Only 57 percent of the male Democratic candidates met both requirements.

In today’s internet age, the cost of distributing false narrative is dangerous. The false narrative of electability threatens not only the accuracy of our predictions but also impedes our economy and the great experiment of American democracy. In the best interest of everyone, let’s redefine what it means to be electable.

Katica Roy is the CEO and founder of Pipeline, a Denver-based startup that increases financial performance through closing the gender equity gap.