Poli Sci Professor Studies Why Women Run (Or Don’t Run) for Office

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While the political world waits with bated breath to see how women candidates fare in the upcoming midterm elections, the recent surge of women’s candidacies raises a more fundamental question: What motivates women to run—or not run—at all?

Dawn Teele, Janice and Julian Bers Assistant Professor of Political Science, explored as much through a survey study, in collaboration with scholars from the University of California at Berkeley, the University of Rutgers-Camden, and the Analyst Institute.

Teele and co-authors surveyed graduates from Emerge America, a large campaign-training organization for Democratic women. The 15-minute survey was conducted in the 12-week period between May and August 2016 with 702 respondents, encompassing 37 percent of all Emerge alumnae; questions focused on the structural, situational, and psychological barriers to candidate emergence. Most of the alumnae were college-educated, and many were from urban areas, but Emerge boasts a large number of women from under-represented identity groups.

Though psychological barriers–fears of running and loss of privacy–depressed women’s ambition, structural and situational factors reigned supreme.

“We think women make more relationally embedded decisions about running,” Teele says. “They think more about the impact on family, the impact on their personal life, and they really only do it when they’re sure they have the full support of everyone in their family. Whereas men tend to have more incipient political ambition and make less relationally embedded choices."

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