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Research

The Trump Effect: Despite Increase in Political Activism, Few Women Seek Office

Political activism among women has swelled in the wake of the 2016 election.

A new study by AU School of Public Affairs Professor Jennifer Lawless, and Loyola Marymount University Professor Richard Fox, found an increase in political activism among women after the 2016 presidential election. However, the researchers also found that women continue to lag behind men in political ambition.

Lawless, who is the director of SPA's Women & Politics Institute, said they surveyed more than 2,000 employed, college-educated women and men of both political parties.

The survey findings were released by Politico and at a recent event held at the at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. The survey assessed feelings about Trump's election, his policy goals, and his character. Overall, negative perceptions dominated, which have prompted an increase in political activism, particularly among female Democrats. In fact, the number of Democratic women who said they signed a petition or political letter more than tripled after the election - from 11 percent to 39 percent. Those who donated money to a Democratic candidate or cause also increased - from 6 to 24 percent. Prior to the election of Trump, only 4 percent of Democratic women had participated in a march or rally. Compare this to post election, when 19 percent reported attending the recent Women's March or a similar event.

When surveyed, 23 percent of women said they have "considered" seeking office, while 38 percent of men said the same. That 15-point gap is nearly identical to the 16-point difference Fox and Lawless found in similar surveys from 2001 and 2011.

"Is Donald Trump's presidency really pushing women everywhere to throw their hats into the political ring?" asked Lawless. "No. That would be quite a feat, as the gender gap in political ambition has gone on for decades. Women are significantly less likely than men to be interested in running for office."

The survey did reveal a small difference between political parties. Among Democratic women, 24 percent said they'd considered running for office, while 20 percent of GOP women said the same. Additionally, among respondents who have considered it, more than a quarter of Democratic women said the idea first occurred to them in 2017-potentially a result of the Trump presidency.

"The Trump effect has the potential to boost women's candidate emergence, at least on the Democratic side of the aisle, over the long run," the report states. "If more women become politically active because of Donald Trump, then there's a larger pool of potential candidates from which gatekeepers can recruit."

The survey was administered in 2017 by GfK. The full report, which was funded by AU School of Public Affairs, Loyola Marymount University, and Politico, can be found online here.