The Word Female Presidential Candidates Have Been Hearing Over and Over

“Hillary Clinton won the popular vote by three million votes,” he said. “How could anybody in a million years not believe that a woman could become president of the United States?”

But many don’t.

An Ipsos poll in June 2019 found that 74 percent of Democrats and independents would be comfortable with a woman president — but only 33 percent believed their neighbors would be. And many Democratic voters, including women, have spent the past year expressing their doubts quietly in interviews. They would be thrilled to elect a woman, they say, but what about those swing voters in Wisconsin?

Statistically, the idea that women are less electable is a myth. Studies have shown that when women run, they win at the same rates as men. In 2018, in fact, nonincumbent women did better than nonincumbent men in primary and general elections, according to the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University. In Michigan, one of the three states that swung the 2016 election to President Trump, Democratic women were elected governor, secretary of state and attorney general.

But the continual debate over whether any given woman is electable places the burden on that woman to convince voters of what research has already shown. This is a burden men running for office don’t have.

“Women often have to run dual campaigns: a campaign of belief to convince donors and elites they can win, in addition to the main campaign,” said Amanda Hunter, research and communications director at the Barbara Lee Family Foundation, which supports women in politics. “That is the challenge Senator Warren is facing now, the constant drumbeat of doubts and questions regarding her electability.”

In other words, the fact that popular beliefs about who can win are inaccurate is not quite the point, because those beliefs can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. And that is what Ms. Warren is trying to prevent.

When voters who like a female candidate choose not to vote for her because they don’t think enough other people will vote for her, she can become less electable simply by virtue of being perceived that way. And inasmuch as the dispute between Ms. Warren and Mr. Sanders affects public opinion of women’s electability, the very existence of the dispute poses a threat.