Women's Path to Political Office

Women's Path to Political Office Research Project

Center on Women and Public Policy seeks to reduce or eliminate the gender gap in political ambition in Minnesota by studying efforts to recruit and train more women to run for office. We also want to document women’s path to elective office, determine whether it differs from men, and expose the myth of the pyramid. Lower office is not always the best route to higher office and perhaps we need to re-conceptualize some offices as destinations rather than stepping stones. This project also will produce a gap analysis of existing training and recruitment programs; create a database of Minnesota women elected officials at all levels; create a database of women interested in running and trained to run by various organizations in the state; and provide a structure for enhanced collaboration among organizations committed to increased political representation for women. 

Gender Differences in the Path to Political Office and Electoral Success

The Center created a new data set of candidates for the Minnesota state legislature from 1998–2008 that allowed us to test our hypotheses about gender differences in candidates’ paths to office. The data span the cycles when the number of female candidates increased most rapidly. It allowed us to systematically test our hypotheses about gender differences in candidates’ electoral experiences, paths to office, and experiences with political parties employing multivariate regression techniques.       

The data set combines information from official government sources, newspaper coverage of campaigns and candidates, and a survey of legislative candidates. We collected data about each candidate, including sex, age, party, electoral experience, and incumbency status, along with information about their campaigns, including their vote share and campaign spending. We matched these data with information about the legislative districts and their electoral context (partisan voting history, demographics, urban concentration, history of electing women, party endorsements). These data come from several sources. Using information provided by the Minnesota Campaign Finance and Public Disclosure Board, we have compiled a data set of every candidate running for the legislature in 2008. The demographic and political information about each district come from the U.S. Census and published sources such as Politics in Minnesota

We also conducted a systematic survey the 528 candidates in 2006 to gather more in-depth information about their backgrounds, the effects of party involvement in their race, other factors that helped or hindered their candidacies, and their motivations for running for office. We supplement these data with information about the candidates’ background and party activity provided in newspaper coverage gathered through LexisNexis searches.

Are We Progressing Toward Equal Representation for Women in the Minnesota Legislature? New Evidence Offers Mixed Results

Reducing the Gender Gap in Political Ambition

The Center undertook a research project to document the effectiveness of programs designed to reduce or eliminate the gender gap in political ambition in Minnesota and nationally. While women have made significant in-roads in “pipeline” professions, the number of women candidates has not kept pace. In recent years, increases in women’s political representation have slowed and in some cases declined. Minnesota is near the top in the percentage of female state legislators at 35%, but still far from the 50+% of the population women represent. More than half of Minnesota’s county boards have no women members (Nelson 2007), and only 16% of members of congress are women (CAWP 2007).

Changing these statistics will not be easy. According to the Citizen Political Ambition Study (Fox and Lawless 2005):

  • Women are less likely than men to consider running for office.
  • Women are less likely than men to run for office.
  • Women are less likely than men to express an interest in running for office.

The research suggests that there is a significant gender gap in political ambition. While college age men and women are equally likely to be politically active, women are 40% less likely to imagine running for office (Fox and Lawless 2005). Minnesota programs, like the White House Project, Progressive Majority, the Minnesota Women Candidate Development Coalition and others, are attempting to reduce or remove this gender gap. Each of these programs takes a different approach to addressing the gap. This project provides high quality longitudinal and comparative data on the effectiveness of various programs designed to reduce the gender gap in political ambition.

During the summer of 2008, we implemented follow-up study protocols to collect longitudinal data about program effectiveness in Minnesota, Michigan and other states. Approximately 250 White House Project and Progressive Majority participants were surveyed to collect baseline and follow-up information. These data were analyzed using multivariate techniques to test our hypotheses about effective approaches to reducing the gender gap in political ambition.

Minnesota Research Shows Programs are Increasing Political Ambition among Women

Center on Women, Gender, and Public Policy

Humphrey School of Public Affairs
255 Humphrey School
301 19th Avenue South
Minneapolis, MN 55455