The next female presidential contender

Maybe you should ask her to run.

By Katharine Mieszkowski
Published June 27, 2008 3:40PM (EDT)

The American Prospect has a whole slew of articles out on women in American politics under the heading "Beyond Hillary." One piece assesses the glacial pace of the flow of female politicians into national elected offices. Another calls out seven Democratic women to watch -- paging Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius! A third story contends that female politicians fare best where political machines are weak, or don't exist.

But the story that most intrigued me was Ezra Klein's piece, which argues that we don't see more women in the political pipeline in part because the political establishment is less likely to invite women to run. "The problem, it turns out, is less underperformance than under-representation," Klein writes. "When women run, they perform at least as well as men. But they don't run nearly so often."

Why not? A political science study of 3,800 lawyers, business leaders, executives, educators and political activists found that the women among them were one-third less likely than the men to have been recruited to run for office by a party leader, elected official or political activist. Apparently, being recruited makes a big difference. "Potential candidates who receive the suggestion to run for office are more than four times as likely as those who receive no such support to think seriously about a candidacy," writes Brown University political scientist Jennifer Lawless, the co-author of the study. Or, as Klein puts it: "In an entrepreneurial political culture like our own, an expression of institutional support or confidence can be a huge factor in whether a potential candidate decides to announce an actual candidacy."

In other words, if we want to see more women in public office, we need to pressure our political leaders to encourage promising women to run. It's worth asking: Among all the women you know, who would make a great elected official? Has anyone ever encouraged this woman to run? (Note bene: This woman could be you.)

Katharine Mieszkowski

Katharine Mieszkowski is a senior writer for Salon.

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