On the evening of Tuesday 7th June 2016, Hillary Clinton became the presumptive Democratic nominee. She had accumulated 1,812 elected (pledged) delegates even before the New Jersey and California results were in, and these, along with the 571 super-delegates, meant she had surpassed the 2,383 delegates needed to secure the nomination.
Although Sanders and his supporters have stated they are still in the race, the reality is that by Monday night, when the result was prematurely called by the Associated Press, Clinton had accumulated more votes than Sanders. According to the counts published by FiveThirtyEight and the Economist, Clinton had received approximately 13.5 million votes in primaries and caucuses prior to the California count, compared with 10.5 million for Sanders.
And, according to election betting odds, Clinton is a clear favourite to beat Trump to the White House on the second Tuesday in November.
Most commentators accept that electing a woman to the White House for the first time would be a “momentous historical occasion”, not only for the United States but for the world. Clinton has made more of the gender factor in 2016 than she did in 2008, although to date the message is still to resonate with young white women who have resisted voting for her in the primaries.
So why should we count this nomination as momentous?
Research tells us that it is much more difficult for women to win leadership positions in political systems where people vote directly for their leader and power is centralised in that office. That is, women are more likely to enter office when their powers are constrained by parliamentary parties and dual executive structures. So a win for Hillary will disrupt this pattern.
There is also considerable research now that shows women govern differently to men; women tend to give more attention to issues related to families and children, women’s health and reproductive rights, and representing the interests of those need. The evidence for this is documented for many countries, and the US case is no exception, (as is nicely summarised by Vox Policy and Politics).
Importantly, having women in the top job has a trickle-down effect on women’s representation, with women then more likely to stand for, and be elected to office, at federal, state and local level. This matters in the US where women make up only 19.3% of the House of Representatives and 20% of the Senate.
The Centre for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University keeps tabs on the numbers of women at all levels of politics, and the story is grim reading everywhere, making success by women leaders such as Clinton all the more important.
Finally, women leaders are more likely to appoint women as advisers and ministers. We saw this with Helen Clark, and it is likely we will see the same with Hillary Clinton. A Trudeau-esque 50-50 Cabinet has been mentioned as possible under Clinton, but even if this doesn’t eventuate, it is possible we will see a woman Treasury secretary or chief of staff or secretary of defense. And the Cabinet might yet include the indomitable Elizabeth Warren.
#WarrenForVP is not quite trending on Twitter, but there is considerable support for the idea of Elizabeth Warren taking up the role of running mate. Announcing her support for Clinton on Rachel Maddow’s MSNBC show on Thursday 9th June, Warren clearly stated she felt she could step into the role of President if that was required, but stopped short of saying she was putting her name forward for consideration. Warren would, in many ways, help to heal the rifts that have formed during the Sanders vs Clinton primaries; she is progressive, formidable, and has a strong record of standing up for families against big companies and banks in particular. Her journey into politics, as a Law Professor and then as a member of the National Bankruptcy Review Commission is documented in her biopic, A Fighting Chance, (see my review in the New Zealand International Review May/June 2016). She may not win over the working class men who have leaned towards Trump, but she can win the independent young voters who have been inspired by Sanders.
The chances of Elizabeth Warren being given the Veep nominee position are slim; but the fact that we are even having conversations about the possibility of an all-woman Democratic Presidential ticket is an historical moment, irrespective of which side of politics one sits.