Women’s under-representation in politics is an empirical fact. The U.S. ranks 102nd in the world in the percentage of women serving in the national legislature. A leading explanation is the persistence of a substantial gender gap in political ambition. Research explaining the gender gap in political ambition has focused primarily on factors such as self-assessed qualifications, risk aversion, and competitiveness. We make two advances on the existing literature: first, we examine the extent of the gender gap in political ambition using a discrete elicitation measure that provides a more precise measurement of the degree to which women and men exhibit electoral aversion. Second, we test three recruitment appeals – a leadership message, community service message, and qualifications message – to determine which type of appeal could reduce or eliminate the gender gap in political ambition. Our results, based on a laboratory experiment, confirm that women are less interested than men in standing for elective office. However, we also find that while women are less willing to enter an election, women are not unwilling to run for election. We conclude that women’s lack of interest is not as definitive as prior research may have suggested. In terms of recruitment, all three messages significantly boost women’s willingness to run in the election. Notably, though, the message describing running for office as a collective endeavor to help serve the community actually reduces men’s willingness to enter the election, closing the gap in ambition.
Richard L. Fox is Professor of Political Science at Loyola Marymount University. His research examines how gender affects voting behavior, state executive elections, congressional elections, and political ambition. He is the author ofGender Dynamics in Congressional Elections (Sage, 1997) and the co-author of Running from Office: Why Young Americans Are Turned Off to Politics (Oxford University Press, 2015), and Women, Men and U.S. Politics: Ten Big Questions (Norton, 2017) . He is also co-editor of iPolitics: Citizens, Elections, and Governing in the New Media Era (Cambridge University Press, 2012) and Gender and Elections (Cambridge, 2018). His work has appeared in academic journals including Political Psychology, Journal of Politics, American Journal of Political Science, American Political Science Review, PS, and Politics & Gender. His op-eds have appeared in the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal