Well-qualified women are less likely than their male counterparts to consider running for public office because women do not perceive themselves as qualified and do not receive as much encouragement as men, according to a new study by political scientists at Brown University and Union College.
Despite the fact that women perform as well as men in terms of campaign fundraising and vote totals, they remain severely under-represented in U.S. political institutions. Gender disparities are apparent at the national, state and local levels: Men account for 86 percent of the members of Congress, 86 percent of state governors, 88 percent of big-city mayors, and 78 percent of state legislators.
“If women win elections at equal rates as men, why do there remain so few women candidates?” asked Jennifer L. Lawless, assistant professor of political science and public policy at Brown University. “Gender plays a substantial role in the candidate emergence process.”
“These results suggest that we are a long way from a political reality in which women and men are equally likely to aspire to attain high-level elective office,” said the researchers.
Yet the findings offer some direction. The number of women who said they would definitely be interested in running for office “someday” was equal to that of men. Women also viewed the activities associated with campaigning as positively as men. Those included such things as attending fundraisers, dealing with party officials, going door-to-door to meet constituents, dealing with the press, and devoting time to running for office.
The research was funded by the Carrie Chapman Catt Center, the Center for American Women and Politics, the Stanford Institute for the Quantitative Study of Society, Union College, and Stanford University.
Many of these results are included in a forthcoming article “Entering the Arena? Gender and the Decision to Run for Office,” in the April 2004 American Journal of Political Science. The article is currently available online at www.ajps.org/forthcoming_articles.html.
Kristen Cole | Brown University
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