We're not only ladies. We are politicians
Owen, Karen Leslie
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Traditional elections and gender politics studies focus on women’s underrepresentation in collegial bodies and predominately ask why women do not run for political office. The recent electoral seasons in American politics demonstrate women’s keen interest and involvement as candidates for executive, legislative, and judicial positions. Political scholars suggest that more women would be politically engaged if they were encouraged and recruited from political insiders, yet none have tested empirically the influence of political role models on females’ progressive political ambition, candidate emergence, and electoral outcomes. Women possess political ambition, albeit in varying degrees, and as such, women run for elective offices. This present study explores women in politics by asking why do women run for higher political offices. Who or what influences a female state legislator to run for the U.S. House and/or the U.S. Senate? Specifically, this dissertation examines the influence of female political role models (i.e. female elected officials – either female U.S. representative, female U.S. senator or female governor) on female state legislators’ candidacy decisions and electoral successes. Evidence from personal interviews with nine congresswomen and forty-two female state legislators reveals the ambitious nature of female politicians, the influence of political actors in their decisions to advance in politics, and their perceived responsibility to be role models to other women. This study tests the theoretical assertion and anecdotal accounts that political role models affect women’s candidate decision-calculi and electoral outcomes. The results from logistic regression models estimated on elections data from 1976 to 2010 indicate female state legislators are more likely to run for the U.S. Congress and are more likely to win these seats when they have a female political role model. Interestingly, female members of Congress significantly affect a female state legislator’s decision to seek a congressional career. Furthermore, female state legislators are strategic politicians, and their decisions to run for Congress are greatly influenced by the political and contextual environment. This study highlights the importance of women as symbolic representatives; female politicians are instrumental in emboldening a new generation of women to engage in politics and seek congressional careers.