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The Sense of a Woman: Gender, Ambition, and the Decision to Run for Congress

Sarah A. Fulton, Cherie D. Maestas, L. Sandy Maisel and Walter J. Stone
Political Research Quarterly
Vol. 59, No. 2 (Jun., 2006), pp. 235-248
Published by: Sage Publications, Inc. on behalf of the University of Utah
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/4148091
Page Count: 14
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The Sense of a Woman: Gender, Ambition, and the Decision to Run for Congress
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Abstract

Do men and women differ in their decisionmaking calculus for higher office? To answer this question, we use a survey of state legislators (SLs) in 1998 to examine the conditions under which male and female SLs seek a position in the U.S. House of Representatives. We consider three ways in which gender may influence ambition and the decision to run-indirectly, directly, and interactively-and we find evidence of all three effects. Female state legislators are less ambitious than males for a U.S. House seat, a difference that largely stems from gender disparities in child-care responsibilities. However, despite their lower ambition, female SLs are just as likely as their male counterparts to seek a congressional position. This apparent puzzle is solved by the finding that the expected benefit of office mediates the relationship between ambition and the likelihood of running. Female SLs are much more responsive to the expected benefit of office than are males, offsetting their diminished ambition level. The sense of a woman is reflected in female state legislators' increased sensitivity to the strategic considerations surrounding a congressional candidacy. Because men and women respond differently to the intersection of ambition and opportunity, gender constitutes an important, yet often neglected, explanatory variable in the decision-to-run calculus.

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