Women remain dramatically underrepresented in elective office, including in entry-level political offices.
While they enjoy the freedom to stand for office and therefore have an equal legal footing with men, this persistent gender imbalance raises pressing questions about democratic legitimacy, the inclusivity of American politics, and the quality of political representation.
The reasons for women's underrepresentation remain the subject of much debate.
Oneexplanation-that the United States lacks sufficient openings for political newcomers-has become less compelling in recent years, as states that have adopted term limits have not seen the expected gains in women's office holding.
Other accounts about candidate scarcity, gender inequalities in society, andthe lingering effects of gendered socialization have some merit; however, these accounts still fail to explain the relatively low numbers.
This book argues that a major problem with current accounts exists in their underlying assumption that there is a single model of candidate emergence.
The prediction is that women's office holding will rise automatically as women acquire the same backgrounds as men and assimilate to men's pathways to office.
In this view, the main reasons for women's political underrepresentation can be found in society rather than in politics.
Carroll and Sanbonmatsu argue for a new approach that considerswomen on their own terms and that focuses on the political origins of women's representation.
Drawing upon an original and comparative survey of women state legislators across all fifty states, from 1981 and 2008, and follow-up surveys after the 2008 elections, the authors find that gender differencesin pathways to the legislatures, first evident in 1981, have been surprisingly persistent over time.
They found that, while the ambition framework better explains men's decisions to run for office, women are much more reliant on the existence of organizational and party support.
By rethinking the nature of women's representation, this study calls for a reorientation of academic research on women's election to office and provides insight into new strategies for political practitioners concerned about women's political equality.