Elections and Political Parties
Women’s Ambition to Run
In April of 2014, Chelsea Clinton, the daughter of Former United States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, became pregnant with her first child. In many now infamous interviews, Hillary Clinton, a tour de force in the political world, was asked if her future grandchild would influence her decisions to run for president in 2016, implying that it might be difficult to be both a good grandmother and a presidential candidate. Today, women hold only 18.5 percent of Congressional seats, but over 50.8 percent of the population (Bowman, 2014). Many factors influence who gets elected in political campaigns, but the fact remains that more and more women are making the decision not to run completely. In a 2013 report by Jennifer Lawless and Richard Fox, on three percent of 18-25 year old college woman said they would be open to holding the presidency (Bowman, 2014). Are all these women holding out to be better mothers grandmothers? What are the factors that contribute to the gender gap in political ambition?
Historically, much of the gender gap in political representation was due largely to discrimination. In the early 1970s, there were no women in the Senate, no women serving as mayor sot major cities, and no women leaders of either political party (Bowman, 2014). However, for the last few decades, researcher have provided evidence that women who run for office are just as likely as men to win the races they enter (Lawless and Fox, 2013). This isn’t to say that female candidates confront the same issues that male candidates do- Wendy Davis, democratic politician from Fort Worth, Texas, has been scrutinized on everything from her shoe choices to her decision to live away from her children during law school, all in the midst of a her gubernatorial race, and her eleven hour filibuster to block Senate Bill Five, a bill restricting women’s reproductive rights in Texas. However, when women run, Lawless and Fox find, their chances of success are incredibly similar to their male counterparts.
If women are just as likely to win races they enter as men, then why does the representation percentage in Congress remain stagnant at a pathetic 18.5 percent? Confusingly, young women are almost as likely as young men to grow up in households where politics is discussed on a daily basis. In their 2013 study, Lawless and Fox found that 25 percent of male children were spoken to about politics while 19 percent of female children were. Even though the numbers were closely positioned, many girls had the perception that their families were far less likely to support them pursuing a career in politics than their male counterparts (Lawless and Fox, 2013). Fifty percent of college students whose mothers regularly suggested they run for office reported that they would consider running in the future, while only three percent of individuals who received no such encouragement reported the same disposition (Lawless and Fox, 2013).
Many journalists and interviewers, like those facing Hillary Clinton after the announcement of her daughter’s pregnancy, cite the decision to stay with the family as a major component in women’s decisions not to run. However, this may not explain the entire situation. The 2011 Citizen Political Ambition Study found that while there was a huge ambition gap, that is, many more men considered ever running for office than women did, the numbers of women considering running were consistent across those with families and without (Lawless, 2014). The same held true for those women who reported being responsible for the majority of chores and household tasks (Lawless, 2014.
If not family, then what? In Lawless’ study, she cites that men are ten percent more likely to receive the…