Candidate Emergence and Recruitment
- LAST MODIFIED: 28 November 2016
- DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756223-0199
- LAST MODIFIED: 28 November 2016
- DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756223-0199
High-quality candidates for office are an essential ingredient for an effective democracy. At the most basic level, democracy is strongest when citizens have quality choices at the ballot box. However, candidate emergence provides an essential ingredient in a less obvious way. Strategic candidate emergence serves as a check in a democracy, as ambitious candidates keep a close eye on their prospects of winning—prospects that change in response to incumbent missteps, representation gaps, or shifts in economic or political conditions. This article is designed to provide an overview of the major foundational studies that explore the causes and consequences of candidacies in the United States and beyond. The earliest foundational research into candidate emergence focused first on the institutional structures that defined opportunities for office—a “political career ladder” created by incentives and opportunities for individuals to exercise their political ambitions—and later on developing formal models to explain candidate entry decisions. Candidates, scholars have argued, calculate an “expected utility model” in which they estimate the benefits they would receive from winning office, assess their chances of winning, and balance this against the costs of running. If the expected benefits outweigh the personal and financial costs associated with running, candidates enter the race. The canonical model directs scholarly attention toward understanding the institutional and contextual factors that shape candidates’ chances of winning and costs of running. As the section on Strategic Factors and Candidate Emergence shows, this approach has yielded a bounty of research. However, other scholars note that the calculations for entering a race only arise among those that already hold some level of ambition for political office. Ambition arises from a variety of sources related to socialization and political recruitment. The sections on Ambition for Office and Candidate Recruitment by Political Gatekeepers detail this literature. Both sections highlight gaps in ambition and representation of minorities and women, and many studies have sought to understand the institutional and sociopolitical sources of such gaps (see Gender, Candidate Recruitment, Emergence, and Success and Race, Ambition, and Candidate Emergence). Finally, candidacies matter greatly for democratic outcomes, both in terms of creating a mechanism for democratic accountability for parties in office, the demographic biases in legislative institutions, and for how ambitions shape political choices among office holders (see Consequences of Ambition and Candidate Emergence for Political Accountability, Ambition, Candidate Emergence, and Representative Behavior in Office, and Demand and Supply Explanations for Biases in Group Representation). The section Data Sources on Candidates and Candidate Emergence highlights sources of election data and survey data that scholars might use to study candidacies in the US context.
These works were selected to give readers an overview of the core theories and case studies that motivated later scholarship in the field. At the aggregate level, Jacobson and Kernell 1983 were the first to articulate how strategic candidate entry creates a mechanism for democratic accountability as pools of ambitious, high-quality potential candidates respond to changing political and economic tides. At the individual level, Schlesinger 1966 was the first to define a theory of political ambition linking personal ambition to a “political opportunity structure”—a hierarchy of offices through which officeholders progress from local or state offices to national office—and show how opportunity structures and party systems work in tandem to encourage different types of ambition. Black 1972 and Rohde 1979 drew upon Schlesinger’s insights to formalize an individual-level model of progressive ambition rooted in rational choice expected utility theory. Black 1972 provided the first formalization a “rational office-seeker model” in which potential candidates take into account the probability of winning higher office, the benefits associated with holding the office, and the costs of obtaining the office. Rohde 1979 brought additional precision to the expected utility model in order to predict which US House members would seek higher office. These models have defined much of the field of study by directing scholarly attention to how institutions and electoral context shape the factors considered by potential candidates (see Strategic Factors and Candidate Emergence and Factors that Influence the Financial and Personal Costs of Running for Office). Several foundational works, such as Fowler and McClure 1990 and Kazee 1994 highlighted the importance of studying qualified individuals who chose not to run to better understand how contextual, personal, and institutional factors shaped decisions to run. Both books use a systematic case-study approach with extensive interviews. While both find support for the factors included in the rational choice model, they also highlight the highly personal intrinsic costs and benefits and biases of subjective perceptions in situations of uncertainty. Both paint a picture of self-starting candidates who are highly sensitive to their perceptions of their chances of winning (partly determined by their perceptions of support from interests, parties, and their families), and who express concerns about the challenges of running a campaign. Most studies focus on officeholders, but Canon 1990 was the first book to explicitly explore the causes and consequences of amateurs running for office. Moncrief, et al. 2001 serves as the foundational work in understanding how institutions and state-level context interact to shape the recruitment and emergence of state legislative candidates. For a rich overview of the foundational literature, see Fowler 1993.
Black, Gordon S. “A Theory of Political Ambition: Career Choices and the Role of Structural Incentives.” American Political Science Review 66.1 (1972): 144–155.
Original articulation of the “rational office-seeker” where running for office occurs when the probability of winning times the benefits of office exceeds the costs of obtaining office. Ties costs of running and chances of winning to political structure. Tests theory using data from city council members in San Francisco.
Canon, David T. Actors, Athletes, and Astronauts: Political Amateurs in the United States Congress. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1990.
First comprehensive study of amateur candidates. Develops a typology of amateurism that forms the bases of subsequent theoretical explanations of the decision to run for office. This study offers a counterpoint to traditional ambition theory which focuses exclusively on progressive ambition among officeholders.
Fowler, Linda L. Candidates, Congress, and the American Democracy. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1993.
Rich overview of the importance of candidates for democratic representation in the United States, highlighting factors that influence why individuals run for Congress. Chapter 3 provides and especially insightful review of the seminal literature in this research area.
Fowler, Linda L., and Robert D. McClure. Political Ambition: Who Decides to Run for Congress. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1990.
Detailed case study of potential candidates in a single district (NY-30) provides insights that motivated subsequent studies in the field. Focus is on “unseen candidates” who never emerged. Emphasizes personal costs of running, the intersection of ambition and recruitment, informal advisors, and biases in assessing the political environment.
Jacobson, Gary C., and Samuel Kernell. Strategy and Choice in Congressional Elections. 2d ed. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1983.
Foundational work showing evidence that representation occurs through the strategic entry choices of candidates rather than retrospective assessments by voters. As national economic and political tides shift, strategic quality candidates emerge to run vigorous campaigns and draw votes away from incumbents in office.
Kazee, Thomas A. Who Runs for Congress: Ambition, Context and Candidate Emergence. Washington, DC: Congressional Quarterly Press, 1994.
Develops a general framework for studying candidate emergence in US House districts using systematic case studies and interview techniques. Notable for the inclusion of non-officeholders. Highlights how contextual and personal considerations interact to shape potential candidate decisions. Richly detailed comparison of decision making in districts representing different electoral contexts.
Moncrief, Gary F., Peverill Squire, and Malcolm E. Jewell. Who Runs for the Legislature? Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 2001.
First in-depth analysis of candidate recruitment and emergence in state legislatures. Examines the state-level factors that influence candidate entry, including party recruitment, personal and financial costs of running, electoral rules, and competition. Combines quantitative evidence with qualitative case studies.
Rohde, David. “Risk Bearing and Progressive Ambition: The Case of Members of the United States House of Representatives.” American Journal of Political Science 23.1 (1979): 1–26.
Brings precision to Black’s expected utility model by focusing only on progressive ambition where the decision process requires comparison between the expected utilities of the current office and the higher office. Applies model to US House members to predict whether they ran for Senate or governorship.
Schlesinger, Joseph A. Ambition and Politics: Political Careers in the United States. Chicago: Rand McNally, 1966.
Seminal work. Defines three types of ambition: progressive ambition for higher office, static ambition to retain same office, and discrete ambition to serve a limited term and return to private life and shows how each relates to the “political opportunity structure”—the institutional hierarchy of political offices and electoral opportunities.
Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content on this page. Please subscribe or login.
How to Subscribe
Oxford Bibliographies Online is available by subscription and perpetual access to institutions. For more information or to contact an Oxford Sales Representative click here.
- Advanced Democracies, Electoral System Reform in
- Advanced Democracies, Public Opinion and Public Policy in
- Advertising and Election Campaigns in the United States
- Africa, Comparative Politics of
- American Indian Politics
- Arab-Israel Conflict, The
- Arendt, Hannah
- Aristotle's Political Thought
- Arms Race Modeling
- Australia and New Zealand, Comparative Politics of
- Authoritarianism in Russia
- Authoritarianism in the Public
- Bicameralism in Stable Democracies
- Big Data in Political Science Research
- Biopolitics and State Regulation of Human Life
- Brazilian Political Development
- Business-State Relations in Europe
- Campaign Finance in the Era of Super-PACS
- Canadian Foreign Policy
- Candidate Emergence and Recruitment
- Channels of Electoral Representation in Advanced Industria...
- China's One-Child Policy
- China-Taiwan Relations
- Chinese Communist Party
- Chinese Economic Policy
- Chinese Nationalism
- Civil Society in South Asia
- Civil War in Sub-Saharan Africa
- Civil-Military Relations in Asia
- Civil-Military Relations in Latin America
- Class in American Politics
- Comparative Capitalism Theory
- Comparative Industrial Relations in Europe
- Comparative Politics of Angola, Mozambique, and Guinea-Bis...
- Comparative Politics of Chile and Uruguay
- Comparative Politics of Federalism
- Comparative Politics of the Middle East and North Africa
- Congress, Defense, and Foreign Policy
- Congressional Reassertion of Authority
- Conservative Litigation Strategies and Groups in US Judici...
- Corruption in China
- Cosmopolitan Political Thought
- Crisis of European Integration in Historical Perspective, ...
- Critical Theory and the Frankfurt School
- Cuban Political Development
- Cycles of Protest
- Democracy and Authoritarianism in Sub-Saharan Africa
- Democracy and Dictatorship in Central Asia
- Democracy in Latin America
- Democratic Citizenship
- Democratic Consolidation
- Democratic Peace Theory
- Democratic Theory
- Democratization in Africa
- Democratization in Central America
- Democratization in Mexico
- Development of Survey Research
- Direct Democracy in the United States
- East Africa, Politics of
- Economic Voting
- Election Forecasting
- Election Laws in Democracies
- Electoral and Party System Development in Sub-Saharan Afri...
- Electoral Change in Latin America
- Emotion and Racial Attitudes in Contemporary American Poli...
- Environmental Governance
- Environmental Politics among Advanced Industrial Democraci...
- Ethnic Diasporas and US Foreign Policy
- Ethnic Politics
- Eurasia, Comparative Politics of
- European Social Democracy
- European Union, Politics of the
- Failed and Weak States in Theory and Practice
- Far-Right Parties in Europe
- Federalism in the United States
- Feminist Political Thought
- Field Experiments
- Filibuster, The
- Gender and Electoral Politics in the United States
- Gender and International Relations
- Gender, Behavior, and Representation
- Global Inequality
- Globalization and the Welfare State
- Globalization, Health Crises, and Health Care
- Governance in Africa
- Governmental Responses to Political Corruption
- Gridlock and Divided Government in the U.S.
- Historiography of Twentieth-Century American Conservatism,...
- Hobbes’s Political Thought
- Hume's Political Thought
- Hybrid Regimes
- Identity and Political Behavior
- Ideological Reasoning in Politics
- Immigrant Incorporation in Canada
- Immigrant Incorporation in Western Europe
- Immigration and International Relations
- Immigration Politics and Policy in the United States
- Impact of Campaign Contributions on Congressional Behavior...
- Implicit Attitudes in Public Opinion
- Income Dynamics and Politics in North America and Europe
- Income Inequality and Advanced Democracies
- Income Inequality in the United States, The Politics of
- Indian Democracy
- Indigenous Rights and Governance in Canada, Australia, and...
- Informal Practices of Accountability in Urban Africa
- Institutional Change in Advanced Democracies
- Intellectual Property in International Relations
- Interest Groups and Inequality in the United States
- Interest Groups in American Politics
- International Conflict Management
- International Criminal Justice
- International Law
- International NGOs
- International Political Economy of Illegal Drugs
- Internet and Politics, The
- Iran, Political Development of
- Israeli Politics
- Judicial Supremacy and National Judicial Review
- Judiciaries and Politics in East Asia
- Kant's Political Thought
- Labor Politics in East Asia
- Land Reform in Latin America
- Latin America, Democratic Transitions in
- Latin America, Environmental Policy and Politics in
- Latin America, Guerrilla Insurgencies in
- Latin America, Social Movements in
- Legal Mobilization
- LGBT Politics in the United States
- Liberal Pluralism
- Local Governments in the United States
- Machiavelli’s Political Thought
- Marx's Political Thought
- Mass Incarceration and US Politics
- Mechanisms of Representation
- Media Effects in Politics
- Media Politics in South Asia
- Minority Political Engagement and Representation in the Un...
- Modern Dynastic Rule
- Modern Elections and Voting Behavior in Europe
- National Interbranch Politics in the United States
- NATO, Politics of
- Negative Campaigning
- Neoclassical Realism
- New Institutionalism Revisited, The
- North America, Comparative Politics of
- Oil, Politics of
- Origins and Impact of Proportional Representation, The
- Outcomes of Social Movements and Protest Activities
- Partisan and Nonpartisan Theories of Organization in the U...
- Partisan Polarization in the US Congress
- Partisan Polarization in the US Electorate
- Party Networks
- Peace Operations
- Personality and Politics
- Plato's Political Thought
- Policy Feedback
- Policy Responsiveness to Public Opinion
- Political Economy of Financial Regulation in Advanced Ind...
- Political Economy of India
- Political Economy of Taxation, The
- Political Geography in American Politics
- Political Obligation
- Political Parties and Electoral Politics of Japan
- Political Thought, Hegel's
- Political Thought of the American Founders, The
- Politics and Policy in Contemporary Argentina
- Politics of Anti-Americanism
- Politics of Class Formation
- Politics of Disaster Prevention and Management
- Politics of Financial Crises
- Politics of Foreign Direct Investment in South Asia
- Politics of Higher Education in the U.S.
- Politics of Internal Conquest in the United States and Can...
- Politics of Japan
- Politics of Natural Disasters, The
- Politics of North Korea
- Politics of Science and Technology
- Politics of South Africa
- Politics of Southern Africa
- Postcolonialism and International Relations
- Post-Communist Democratization
- Preferential Trade Agreements, Politics of
- Presidential Persuasion and Public Opinion
- Presidential Primaries and Caucuses
- Private Governance
- Public Opinion in Advanced Industrial Democracies
- Public Opinion in New Democracies and Developing Nations
- Public Presidency, US Elections, and the Permanent Campaig...
- Qualitative Methods, The Renewal of
- Race in American Political Thought
- Racial and Ethnic Descriptive Representation in the United...
- Regime Transitions and Variation in Post-Communist Europe
- Regional Integration in Latin America
- Regional Security
- Regulating Food Production
- Religion in American Political Thought
- Religion in Contemporary Political Thought
- Religion, Politics, and Civic Engagement in the United Sta...
- Rousseau's Political Thought
- Rule of Law
- Russia and the West
- Science and Democracy
- Social Policy and Immigrant Integration
- South Korea, Politics of
- Spectacle, The
- State Building in Sub-Saharan Africa
- State Formation
- State, The Nature of the
- Supreme Court of the United States, The
- Systemic Theories of International Politics
- Taiwan, Politics of
- Tea Party, The
- The New Right in American Political Thought
- Transitional Justice
- Transnational Private Regulation
- Turkey, Political Development of
- US Military Bases Abroad
- US Presidency, The
- Voter Turnout
- Welfare State Development
- Welfare State Development in Latin America
- Welfare State Development in Western Europe
- West Africa, Politics of
- Worker Politics in China
- Youth and Generational Differences in US Politics