Replay 242: Public Office

All this week, we’re replaying five episodes about different facets of being in the USA. For more of an explanation on why, see the 4th of July message. Today’s replay is 242: Public office.


Full episode script

This is going to be mostly focused on the United States, but I would love to hear opinions from those of you outside of the USA!

In 2015, Political science professors Jennifer Lawless and Richard Fox asked more than 4,000 high school and college students if they would be interested in running for political office in America someday: 89% of them said “no.” While exact comparisons are not available, the researchers also estimate that this is a decline in 20 to 30 percent from previous generations.

Running for office isn’t exactly a popular career option, and there are many reasons why someone might choose to not run for office. The researchers in the study of students guessed it was due to the fact that teens and young adults are constantly getting reinforced messages that the system is dysfunctional. However, there are other, much more easily solvable reasons that may have an impact.

An Observer article from about a year ago examines the reasons that more “New Americans” – immigrants and first generation Americans – don’t run for office. And the answer may be almost as simple as asking those individuals to run.

Of course, the underlying assumptions in that question also must be challenged. And a few individuals interviewed in that Observer article pointed out that not only did nobody ever ask them, but they were actively discouraged from running for office by the established political parties. And so much like starting their own businesses, many new Americans find their political way by forging their own paths.

However, that difficulty of finding non-traditional or enthusiastic candidates may, in fact, be a wall that is breaking itself down. A Guardian article from January of this year points out that there has been a huge surge in women, youth, and non-traditional candidates taking action towards running for one of the over half-million political offices in the USA. Many of them started that path in the days following the 2016 presidential election.

VoteRunLead, a non-partisan political organization that trains future female politicians, normally receives between 30 and 80 applicants for each of its regular webinars.

“In a 48-hour period after the election, we had 1,100 women sign up for our next webinar and we had to close it and start a wait list,” said Erin Vilardi, executive director of VoteRunLead.

Whatever the case may be, it is nearly certain that the choice to run for office is a difficult one. And the Pew Research Center found in 2014 that it’s about 2% of the citizenry of the US that decides to do it. Would you be one of them?