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Why Hillary Clinton’s Win Is So Historic

How Americans’ attitudes toward female politicians have changed over Clinton’s career.
Photo of Hillary Clinton in front of American flags, with her arms upraised

Hillary Clinton

Editor’s Note: A version of this story first appeared on on April 14, 2015, with the headline “A History of Americans’ Willingness to Make a Woman President.” The timeline has since been updated.

For the first 20 years of Hillary Clinton’s life, time and again, only about half of Americans polled said they were willing to vote a well-qualified woman into the presidency. We’ve come a long way since then. Now, 95 percent of Americans say they would be open to voting for a female president. (Although there’s always the question of people lying to pollsters because they don’t want to look prejudiced.)

As Clinton readies for the general election, we thought it would be a good time to take a look at the history of Americans’ readiness for a female president. The timeline below juxtaposes major events in Clinton’s career, historic moments for women in political leadership, and regular polling results on Americans’ attitudes about female leaders.

Since the 1970s progress has been fairly regular, we found. Yet many Americans are now apathetic; a majority of those polled say it’s not important to them to see a female United States president in their lifetimes. If Americans do give up now, it will be a sad status quo they’re accepting. The U.S. ranks 72nd in the world in terms of women’s representation in political leadership. Clinton’s lifetime may have seen extraordinary change, but that change needs to continue before U.S. politics are fair in their gender representation.