Social Science Matters: Why Women Don’t Run for Office and What Happens When They Do

Thursday, November 9, 2017 - 4:00pm
Commonwealth Honors Events Hall

Jennifer Lawless will present.

Claims of bias against female candidates abound in American politics. And although these patterns don’t doom women to electoral failure, they raise a formidable series of obstacles that complicate women’s path to elective office. Or so the conventional wisdom goes. I’ll challenge that prevailing view and argue that the declining novelty of women in politics, coupled with the polarization of the Republican and Democratic parties, has left little space for the sex of a candidate to influence modern campaigns. Based on an in-depth analysis of the 2010 and 2014 congressional elections, I’ll demonstrate that male and female House candidates communicate similar messages on the campaign trail, receive similar coverage in the local press, and garner similar evaluations from voters in their districts. Gender is by no means irrelevant, but when they run for office, male and female candidates don’t just perform equally well on Election Day -- they also face a very similar electoral landscape. The problem for women’s representation, however, if that women are less likely than men to throw their hats into the electoral ring in the first place.

About Jennifer Lawless

Jennifer Lawless is professor of government at American University, where she is also the Director of the Women & Politics Institute. She received her Ph.D. in Political Science from Stanford University in 2003 and her B.A. from Union College in 1997. Professor Lawless’ research, which has been supported by the National Science Foundation, focuses on representation, political ambition, and gender in the electoral process. She is the author of Becoming a Candidate: Political Ambition and the Decision to Run for Office (Cambridge University Press, 2012) and the co-author of Women on the Run: Gender, Media, and Campaigns in a Polarized Era (Cambridge University Press, 2016), Running from Office: Why Young Americans Are Turned Off to Politics (Oxford University Press, 2015), and It Still Takes a Candidate: Why Women Don’t Run for Office (Cambridge University Press, 2010). Her work has appeared in academic journals including the American Political Science Review, American Journal of Political Science, Perspectives on Politics, Journal of Politics, Political Research Quarterly, Legislative Studies Quarterly, and Politics & Gender (of which she served as editor from 2010 – 2013). She is also a nationally recognized speaker on electoral politics. Her scholarly analysis and political commentary have been quoted in numerous newspapers, magazines, television news programs, and radio shows, including the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, USA Today, The New Republic, the Chronicle of Higher Education, the Associated Press Newswire, Reuters, The Last Word with Lawrence O’Donnell, The Situation Room with Wolf Blitzer, the CBS Evening News, ABC World News Tonight,, and For the 2012 and 2016 presidential elections, she was part of the NBC’s Decision Night in America programming. In 2006, she sought the Democratic nomination to the U.S. House of Representatives in Rhode Island’s second congressional district.

Sponsored by the Office of the Chancellor, the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences, the Department of Political Science, and Commonwealth Honors College