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Becoming a Candidate
Political Ambition and the Decision to Run for Office


  • Date Published: March 2012
  • availability: Available
  • format: Paperback
  • isbn: 9780521756600

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About the Authors
  • Becoming a Candidate: Political Ambition and the Decision to Run for Office explores the factors that drive political ambition at the earliest stages. Using data from a comprehensive survey of thousands of eligible candidates, Jennifer L. Lawless systematically investigates what compels certain citizens to pursue elective positions and others to recoil at the notion. Lawless assesses personal factors, such as race, gender and family dynamics, that affect an eligible candidate's likelihood of considering a run for office. She also focuses on eligible candidates' professional lives and attitudes toward the political system.

    • The only broad national study of potential candidates
    • The only book-length treatment of the initial decision to run for office (that does not focus exclusively on the gender gap in ambition)
    • Employs a unique mix of survey data and interview evidence
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    Reviews & endorsements

    '… Lawless … has masterfully tackled the puzzle of what stimulates ambitions for political office. She challenges us to look beyond the standard explanations that center on the structure of opportunities for political office to consider broader professional, social, and political influences. This is the first study of its kind to separately explore the differences between nascent ambition, the first germ of interest in holding office, and expressive ambition, the actual choice to run for office. The innovative research design allows a glimpse into the thoughts and feelings of thousands of men and women holding careers in law, business, education, and politics, careers that serve as common stepping stones to political office. By exploring how their experiences shaped their perceptions of politics and public office, and how these views evolved over time, she enlightens us about the future of political leadership in America.' Cherie Maestas, Florida State University

    'The hard work of systematically measuring the origins of ambition for public office has been beyond the ken of political scientists - until now. In Becoming a Candidate, Jennifer L. Lawless successfully tackles one of the toughest research problems in modern politics - tracing the origins of political ambition and learning how potential candidates act on it. This book is the first effort to delve systematically into the choice to become a candidate, and it does so successfully with a combination of rigorous analysis and rich narrative. All students of campaign politics must have this excellent book in their personal library.' Keith Gaddie, University of Oklahoma and author of Born to Run: Origins of the Political Career

    'This is an impressive book that clearly illustrates that ambition is a dynamic and highly nuanced two-stage process: considering candidacy and deciding to run. For the scholar, there is much to ponder. For the teacher, the book is filled with many illustrative anecdotes and personal stories that make the findings accessible to a wide range of students. For the activist concerned about the quality of representation, Lawless identifies important challenges.' Cindy Simon Rosenthal, Congress and the Presidency

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    Product details

    • Date Published: March 2012
    • format: Paperback
    • isbn: 9780521756600
    • length: 304 pages
    • dimensions: 226 x 150 x 20 mm
    • weight: 0.41kg
    • contains: 14 b/w illus. 42 tables
    • availability: Available
  • Table of Contents

    1. Mudslinging, money-grubbing, and mayhem: who would ever run for office?
    2. The decision to run for office: the theoretical and methodological approach
    3. Political ambition in the candidate eligibility pool
    4. Barack Obama and 18 million cracks in the glass ceiling: sex, race, and political ambition
    5. You could be president someday! Early socialization, the role of family, and political ambition
    6. On-the-job training: professional circumstances and the decision to run for office
    7. You think I should run for office? Political parties, political recruitment, and political ambition
    8. Biting the bullet: deciding to run for office
    9. Future patterns of candidate emergence and studies of political ambition.

  • Instructors have used or reviewed this title for the following courses

    • Advanced Campaigns & Elections
    • American Campaigns & Elections
    • Campaigns
    • Campaigns and Candidates in Election 2012
    • Congressional Politics
    • The Politician
  • Author

    Jennifer L. Lawless, American University, Washington DC
    Jennifer L. Lawless is an Associate Professor of Government at American University, where she is also the Director of the Women and Politics Institute. Her research focuses on political ambition, public opinion and women and politics. Her articles have appeared in the American Journal of Political Science, Perspectives on Politics, Political Research Quarterly, Legislative Studies Quarterly, The Journal of Politics and Women and Politics. She is the current editor of the journal Politics and Gender. She is also the co-author of It Still Takes a Candidate: Why Women Don't Run for Office (Cambridge University Press, 2010) and It Takes a Candidate: Why Women Don't Run for Office (Cambridge University Press, 2005) with Richard L. Fox. She is a recognized speaker on the subject of electoral politics, frequently discussing these issues on national and local television and radio. Her scholarly analysis and political commentary have been quoted in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, USA Today, The New Republic, the Chronicle of Higher Education and the Boston Globe, as well as on the Web sites of CNN, MSNBC and FOX News. In 2006, she sought the Democratic nomination for the US House of Representatives in Rhode Island's second congressional district.

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