The Journal of Politics


If Only They’d Ask: Gender, Recruitment, and Political Ambition

Richard L. Foxa1 and Jennifer L. Lawlessa2

a1 Loyola Marymount University

a2 American University


Based on data from the second wave of the Citizen Political Ambition Panel Study—our national survey of more than 2,000 “potential candidates” in 2008—we provide the first thorough analysis of the manner in which gender interacts with political recruitment in the candidate eligibility pool. Our findings are striking. Highly qualified and politically well-connected women from both major political parties are less likely than similarly situated men to be recruited to run for public office by all types of political actors. They are less likely than men to be recruited intensely. And they are less likely than men to be recruited by multiple sources. Although we paint a picture of a political recruitment process that seems to suppress women’s inclusion, we also offer the first evidence of the significant headway women’s organizations are making in their efforts to mitigate the recruitment gap, especially among Democrats. These findings are critically important because women’s recruitment disadvantage depresses their political ambition and ultimately hinders their emergence as candidates.

(Received October 22 2008)

(Accepted June 02 2009)


Jennifer L. Lawless is Associate Professor of Government and Director, Women & Politics Institute American University Washington, DC 20016.

Richard L. Fox is Associate Professor of Political Science Loyola Marymount University Los Angeles, CA 90045.