Electing women to political office requires one important factor: a woman to run for office. Finding a woman to run can be a problem. According to a 2011 study published by the Women and Politics Institute, the low number of women involved at both the state and federal levels of public office is not because women cannot get elected; it’s because so few women run. The study found that women are under-represented in public office primarily because they do not run, despite evidence that shows women are as likely as men to win elections when running. Even though they are just as likely to win, women perceive their chances of winning to be significantly lower if running against a male opponent.
Comparing results of a 2001 survey with a 2011 survey, researchers found that the gender gap in political ambition was unchanged with men respondents being more likely than female respondents to seek political office at the time of the survey and in the future. Based on the results of the 2011 survey, the study identified seven factors that contribute to the gender gap in political ambition.
- Women perceive the political arena as biased against women despite evidence to the contrary. The perception of reality can often play a more significant role in decision making than the actual reality of the situation.
- Women are less likely than men to think they are qualified to run even though the women surveyed were just as likely as men to have exposure to the political arena.
- Potential female candidates are less likely to be risk-takers, which is seen as a politically relevant trait. Of the men and women surveyed, men were more likely to see themselves as risk-takers and engage in scenarios that required greater risk.
- Women view modern campaigns more negatively. For example, survey results showed that having to engage in negative campaigning and dealing with the loss of privacy were more significant deterrents for potential female candidates than males.
- Men are asked to run more frequently than women. When asked, women do respond favorably but they are just not asked to run as often.
- When thinking about running, women factor in how it will impact childcare and household duties. While this does not hinder women from thinking about candidacy it does make the decision more complex than for their male counterparts. Of the men surveyed more than half recognized that his spouse was responsible for both a majority of the household tasks and for childcare.
- Hilary Clinton and Sarah Palin’s candidacies aggravated women’s perceptions of gender bias in politics. Survey results suggest that potential female candidates believe the media is sexist and use Clinton and Palin as examples of that sexism against female candidates.
Lawless and Fox’s study on the factors that play a role in the gender disparity concerning political ambition is important to recognize in order to tackle the problem of under-representation of women in both state and federal offices. By educating ourselves on the factors that prevent women from running, we can better overcome these obstacles in the future.