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The Trump Effect: Does Increased Political Activism Mean More Women Will Run for Office? New survey finds little effect on women’s interest in running for office

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Woman holds up sign demanding change

 WASHINGTON, D.C. — June 12, 2017 — In spite of heightened political activism, the gender gap in political ambition remains, according to a report released today by American University’s School of Public Affairs. Although the 2016 presidential election spurred an upsurge in political activism, the report, “The Trump Effect,” finds that Donald Trump’s victory and early presidency has not generated a substantial increase in women’s interest in running for office. 

Authored by Jennifer Lawless, professor of Government and the Director of the Women & Politics Institute at AU’s School of Public Affairs, and Richard Fox, professor of political science at Loyola Marymount University, the report is based on a May 2017 national survey of “potential candidates,” people who would consider running for elected office. It includes responses from more than 2,000 college educated women and men who are employed fulltime, both Democrats and Republicans.


“The groundswell of activism following Trump’s election almost immediately led to widespread news media reporting that Trump’s victory was inspiring a large new crop of female candidates across the country,” according to Lawless. “And there’s certainly something going on out there – even a casual observer of U.S. politics would draw that conclusion.”


“Is Donald Trump such a shock to the political system that he’s able to spark the kind of political activism and ambition that previous political candidates and major political events simply could not? Only a national survey allows for a systematic assessment of the extent to which Trump’s election and early presidency have inspired more women to run for office. So, we conducted one. The results show that the effect has been minimal at best,” Lawless continued.


The survey assessed potential candidates’ attitudes toward Trump’s victory, character, and policy goals. The researchers also asked respondents how they would react to several hypothetical scenarios pertaining to Trump.  


The report reveals that, whereas a majority of Democratic women reported being angry about Trump’s victory, most men with the same party affiliation did not. The researchers also found that seven out of 10 respondents perceived Trump’s statements to be racist and more than 60 percent were troubled by what they deemed was “sexism” and “mean-spiritedness” on his part. 


These visceral reactions have been accompanied by significant increases in political engagement and activity, especially among Democratic women. However, this heightened activism has not yet been accompanied by a sweeping surge in interest in running for office. In fact, the overall gender gap in political ambition has not changed in the past 15 years, the authors report. 


“Increased political engagement is a key ingredient to foster political ambition,” explained Lawless. “But other factors that impede women’s political ambition – in particular, their self-assessments of whether they are qualified to run for office – are longstanding and deeply embedded. It is important to keep in mind that cultivating widespread interest in running for office likely takes more than the Trump effect and the impressive grassroots surge in political activism he’s generated.” 


The authors also note that we might see a record number of female Democratic candidates in 2018. “It could very well be the case that Democratic party leaders and organizations are seizing on Trump’s character and agenda to target a greater than usual proportion of female candidates,” Fox said.


The study was funded by American University, Loyola Marymount University, and Politico